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Analysis

Dominated by Scotland, U.S. gains draw with strong defense.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Saturday, November 12, 2005) -- Scotland dominated much of the play this afternoon, but the United States men managed to escape with a 1-1 draw in an international friendly, thanks to an early Josh Wolff penalty kick and some very stout defending.

Before a crowd of 26,708 at cold and wet Hampden Park in Glasgow, the U.S. started out well and seemed to surprise the hosts early by attacking efectively. Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley ran past defenders onto a through ball in the Scotland box in the ninth minute and was pulled down. Wolff converted the penalty kick for the early 1-0 lead.

The Americans continued to attack but, after about the first 20 minutes, Scotland took over the midfield and kept the U.S. pressed tightly in its own end. It is a credit to the U.S. defense that despite an overwhelming advantage in possession, Scotland managed only one good chance on goal.

That's when striker Brian Ching was caught playing defense and was shoved aside by Andy Webster who headed Graham Alexander's free kick past Kasey Keller into the right corner for a 1-1 tie.

Today's match exposed a U.S. weakness that could well become a big problem at the World Cup next summer in Germany. Except for a couple of back-liners, the Americans are generally small in stature and have difficulty playing against large, physical teams. This afternoon, Scotland got back in the match after the first quarter hour, or so, by controlling the midfield with physical play. After that, the U.S. was back on its heels for the rest of the half and much of the second.

The U.S. also has problems finishing. Defender Gregg Berhalter came up empty on a close-in free kick, Wolff put a sitter wide and defender Jonathan Spector saw his shot in the 87th minute stopped on a nice save by Scotland keeper Craig Gordon. If any had gone in, the Americans probably would have won.

Notwithstanding Berhalter's very well-taken free kick, the U.S. could not do much with corner or free kicks with midfielders Claudio Reyna, Eddie Lewis and Bobby Convey absent.

This match was scheduled on short notice because there is only one international friendly date on the world calendar next year and both coaches wanted a high-level match to look at younger players. The difference is the Americans are going to their fifth straight World Cup and Scotland is staying home for the second consecutive time.

The U.S. was without a number of key players. Reyna (knee, ankle), striker Brian McBride (groin), Lewis (knee) and Convey (minor leg strain) were unavailable because of injury. Major League Soccer's championship game is tomorrow, making unavailable forward Landon Donovan of the Los Angles Galaxy and several possible starters from the New England Revolution, especially midfielder Steve Ralston. Defender Oguchi Onyewu remained with Standard de Liege in Belgium.

Despite all the talk about improved U.S. depth, Reyna remains the key player. He can settle the midfield, hold the ball and direct the offense. Without him, the Americans have organizational problems that they have been unable to solve.

The big plus today for the U.S. was the work of its defenders. Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Berhalter and Spector, plus substitute Jimmy Conrad all had strong matches.

Scotland coach Walter Smith looked at this match as the beginning of a rebuilding program, aimed at the next European championship in 2008 and World Cup 2010 in South Africa. The Scots were a bit unlucky, finishing in third place in Europe's Group 5, behind Italy and Norway.

Scotland had a 2-1 victory on the road to Norway, while tying Italy 1-1 at Hampden Park, but a home loss to Belarus and earlier draws against Belarus, Slovania and Moldova provided its undoing.

Scotland, surprisingly, is ranked a lowly 62nd in world governing body FIFA's rankings, while the U.S. is a lofty seventh.


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 5.5: Not a busy day. Really can't be faulted on Scotland's goal, a well-placed header from close range.

Defender Steve Cherundolo - 7: Probably the best U.S. player. Defended well and was a major offensive threat through most of the match.

Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6: Was extremely busy and performed at a high level. Showed good pace and understanding before tiring late.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 6.5: Was the stopper today, making key defensive plays in the middle whenever Scotland threatened. A strong performance.

Defender Jonathan Spector - 6: A little shaky early, but he settled in quickly and had a strong outing. Defended well and pushed forward quite well at times, almost scoring the winner at the end.

Midfielder Eddie Gavin - 4: At times, he looked almost disinterested. Continues to show he can't raise his game above the MLS level.

Midfielder Kerry Zavagin - 5: Better than his last national-team outing. He had some very good moments, especially early, but was nowhere near as good as Ben Olsen who replaced him at halftime.

Midfielder Brian Carroll - 5.5: Continues to be a pleasant surprise. He still needs a lot more experience at the international level, but shows a world of promise.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: He was the main U.S. offensive threat through much of the match. Seemed to be the only American capable of holding the ball in the middle, but his busy schedule of league and Cup matches seems to be taking its toll and he was gimpy when he came out in the 77th minute.

Forward Brian Ching - 4.5: Has not returned to the level he started to show late last year in the first round of qualifying. His defensive lapse cost the U.S. a goal, while he displayed very little offensively.

Forward Josh Wolff - 5.5: Simply wonderful at times, he can play with pace and skill, but despite his well-taken penalty kick, his finishing continues to be lacking. This is a big problem for a striker.

Reserves

Midfielder Ben Olsen (46th minute for Zavagin) - 6.5: A strong effort in the midfield in the second half. Won ball after ball and broke up a number of Scottish attacks, while effectively pushing the ball forward. It was his best national-team appearance in quite awhile.

Midfielder Santino Quaranta (46th minute for Gavin) - 5.5: Certainly did better than the player he replaced and put in some strong defensive work, while stemming the Scots' advantage in the midfield. Still, he needed to do better offensively.

Forward Chris Rolfe (58th minute for Wolff) - 5.5: A nice first international appearance for the big striker who has improved greatly in the last year. He was not afraid to take on defenders and shows a great deal of promise once he gets some experience.

Midfielder Heath Pearce (77th minute for Beasley) - 5.5: Usually a defender, he made his first international appearance in the midfield and surprisingly contributed a number of productive offensive runs up the left wing. An impressive inaugural outing.

Defender Jimmy Conrad (80th minute for Bocanegra)- 6 Stepped right in with some quality play in the latter moments.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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