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Arena saw little to please him in U.S. loss to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica earns World Cup berth, blanking Americans 3-0.

Americans take long way to San Jose to play Costa Rica.

Players need to impress Arena in Costa Rica qualifier.

Arena selects roster for qualifier in Costa Rica.

New U.S. lineup produces lackluster 0-0 draw with Guatemala.

With dominant effort, U.S. dumps Mexico and qualifies for World Cup.

Wasted chances don't stop U.S. from defeating T&T, nearing World Cup berth.

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  • Americans finish first in qualifying group by blanking Panama 2-0.

    U.S. men

    Arena accomplishes goals, defeating Panama and evaluating young Americans.

    By Robert Wagman
    SoccerTimes

    (Thursday, October 13, 2005) -- Extremely young and relatively inexperienced, the United States men used two opportunistic second-half goals to put away equally young Panama 2-0 last night and, in the process, captured first place in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after Mexico fell on the road to Trinidad & Tobago.

    U.S. manager Bruce Arena said beyond winning, the purpose of the final qualifier at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., and Saturday's 3-0 loss at Costa Rica, was to look at younger players who might help next year at the World Cup in Germany. He certainly succeeded in that by starting two Major League Soccer midfielders -- D.C. United's Brian Carroll and Chicago's Justin Mapp -- who made their first international appearances, as well as inserting San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Ricardo Clark as a sub to also earn his first cap. Several other starters had little experience in qualifying.

    Despite playing at home against an equally inexperienced side, one much weaker than a Costa Rica team playing at home Saturday and needing to clinch a World Cup berth, the U.S. got off to a somewhat shaky start against Panama. But the Americans settled in quickly and took the play to the Canaleros.

    A huge difference tonight, as compared to Saturday, was Santino Quaranta playing right wing on attack instead of Chris Albright, who returned to left back. Quaranta, a D.C. United forward-midfielder immediately started to push the ball down the sideline and to send in well-placed crosses such as the one in that put Clint Dempsey in position for a point-blank shot which was blocked by goalkeeper Jaime Penedo in the 14th minute.

    The right flank play opened up the middle and allowed the U.S. to create other chances. Despite some enticing balls sent into the Panama, box, the U.S. failed to put another shot on goal over the first 45 minutes. Striker Taylor Twellman whiffed on another perfect cross from Quaranta in the 34th minute.

    The contrast between the first half and the second for the Americans was a combination of more aggressive play and a pair of nice finishes, leading to the first international goals for midfielder Kyle Martino in the 51st minute and for Twellman six minutes later. Otherwise, the Americans did not put another shot on frame.

    Martino's volleyed home a looping pass from Albright who had moved deeply into the offensive end. Twellman was the beneficiary of an awful miscue by defender Felipe Baloy, heading an errant back-pass past Penedo and then drilling the ball into the open net.

    The Americans, with four in the back, stayed organized on defense all night, and with good work from the defensive midfield, Panama was allowed few, if any, quality chances. Defensively, the midfield was much stronger than it had been Saturday in Costa Rica.

    "To cap the year with a win and finish the top of the group in qualifying is great," Arena said. "We did not have many real good performances in Costa Rica, but this time we had a bunch of them."

    So now a lot of work begins. MLS players who hope to make the World Cup team will have to keep themselves in top shape ahead of training which will begin in California on January 4. European-based players will have to get playing time with their clubs and must avoid injuries.

    "There is nowhere we don't need to improve," Arena said after the match. "'It is just like 2002. We clearly need to make the team better and we will, move the domestic players along, and we have gotten an early start on that because of qualifying early."


    U.S. player ratings:

    Starters

    Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5: Was not very busy, recording only three routine saves. Facing a penalty kick, he went the wrong way, but luckily the shot in the 87th minute was pulled just wide, preserving his shutout. Did control his area better than Saturday in 3-0 loss to Costa Rica and did come out well on a few occasions.

    Defender Jonathan Spector - 5: Given his growing reputation in England, he produced a somewhat sedate performance. He did not consistently push the ball forward and had some trouble to his outside. He is going to have to show a lot more if he wants to win a spot on the final roster.

    Defender Chad Marshall - 5: Was put under very little pressure, so it is somewhat difficult to judge his performance. Made a few mistakes, but none that were costly. Not a negative performance, but did little that was outstanding.

    Defender Danny Califf - 5.5: Was solid, winning most of the individual battles. However, with the center of the U.S. defense facing little pressure, he was not required to do very much.

    Defender Chris Albright - 6: He is clearly more comfortable in the back than in midfield. Showed he can play on the left side as well as his usual position on the right. Did push forward well and his nice pass resulted in the first U.S. goal.

    Midfielder Brian Carroll - 6.5: For long periods, was the best U.S. player. Played an exceptional game in the midfield trenches, clogging up the passing lanes and denying Panama the ball in key situations. A terrific performance in his debut and he will certainly be given the chance to make the squad next spring.

    Midfielder Kyle Martino - 5.5: An uneven performance. He scored a very nice goal and at times played very well, but he also disappeared at times, especially in the first half. He needs to put together a better 90 minutes.

    Midfielder Santino Quaranta - 6.5: He did very well, especially in the first half when he represented much of the U.S. attack by consistently pushing the ball up the right side and sending in quality crosses. He was not as effective after intermission when he seemed to tire.

    Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5: His problems finishing remain. As has been the case in the past, he has opportunities, but fails to connect. He also continues to have problems with the physical game, often getting pushed off the ball, seemingly surprised when the referee does not come to his aid. Did not help his prospects much tonight.

    Forward Justin Mapp - 5.5: Was aggressive in his first international start and tried to take on defenders. Did create some chances, but could not finish them. Not a bad outing for a first start.

    Forward Taylor Twellman - 6: He finally scored that first elusive international goal, but it was an opportunistic goal resulting from a defensive error. As on Saturday, he again suffered from a lack of service, but again he did not finish a number of chances he had, including a prime opportunity in the 14th minute. Tonight was a start, but he still needs to show more to convince Arena he should be on the World Cup roster.

    Reserves

    Midfielder Steve Ralston (58th minute for Mapp) - 6: Put in a solid 30 minutes, playing much like a withdrawn forward. Created a number of chances while also dropping back to help the defensive middle.

    Midfielder Ricardo Clark (68th minute for Martino) - 5.5: Came on in a defensive role and worked well with Carroll. A good showing in his first international appearance.

    Forward Brian Ching (74th minute for Twellman) - 5: Did better tonight than on Saturday in Costa Rica. That said, he still was not effective off the ball. While he certainly was more aggressive, he did not create many quality chances.

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

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