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

By Robert Wagman

(Thursday, September 8, 2005) -- Starting a completely different lineup than the one that defeated Mexico Saturday, the United States men held Guatemala to a 0-0 draw last night in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on a wet field at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

The draw earned the Americans one point which put the U.S. in a tie with Mexico at the top of the the final-round six-nation round robin. With two qualifies remaining, both the U.S. and Mexico have secured berths in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Each team in 6-1-1 with 19 points and has a plus-11 in goal differential, but since the U.S. outscored Mexico 3-2 in the two matches between the countries, the Americans are formally in first place.

The match came down to a contest between Guatemala, a not very good team fighting to stay alive in qualifying and the U.S., which used mostly reserves with a World Cup bid already in hand.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena said he wanted to use the Guatemala match and the remaining qualifiers with Costa Rica and Panama to look at players who might help next year in Germany. He certainly did that in giving seven players their first-ever start in a World Cup qualifying match with four of the starters -- defenders Jimmy Conrad and Chad Marshall, striker Jeff Cunningham and goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann -- making their first appearance in qualifying. Three others -- midfielders Clint Dempsey and, Santino Quaranta, and forward Taylor Twellman -- made their first appearances as starters in qualifiers.

Only defenders Greg Vanney, and Chris Albright, and midfielders Bobby Convey and Pablo Mastroeni had started in qualifiers before.

As could be expected with a starting 11 that had never played together, the U.S. was understandably disjointed, especially in the first half. The steady rain and the slick field certainly didn't help. Against a better opponent, the U.S. might have had problems, but without its star striker Carlos Ruiz, who was suspended for yellow-card accumulation, the home side displayed little scoring punch.

Hahnemann, who has been backing up Kasey Keller in goal, was outstanding. He was not called upon often, but made sparkling saves on Juan Carlos Plata from close range in the 26th minute and on Julio Giron in the 71st minute. Only Edwin Villatoro was able to get a ball past him, but he hit the left post in stoppage time.

The U.S. has not allowed a goal in the last 597 minutes of qualifying.

The second half was better for the U.S. as players became better acquainted. In the final 45 minutes, the Americans created a half dozen chances, but could not finish. Several players who had so much trouble finishing in this summer's Gold Cup, again showed a lack of a scoring touch. Convey came close hitting the crossbar on a free kick, but Dempsey, Twellman and second-half reserve striker Eddie Johnson muffed fine chances that might have given the U.S. the victory.

"I thought it was a well played game for both teams," Arena said. "Both teams had chances in the second half. I thought our team had a much improved effort in the last 45 minutes."

The U.S. back line did well, although the two central defenders, Conrad and Marshall, tended to chase the ball and were often out of position. However, with Guatemala's lack of firepower, they were not hurt for their occasional lapses.

Several players certainly helped themselves in Arena's eyes. Veterans Convey and Mastroeni played well and their experience showed. Albright, on the right side, and Vanney on the left, both have the experience to probably make the World Cup team as backups. Conrad in the middle was the surprise of the Gold Cup and showed that while he needs more experience, he does have the necessary tools.

Hahnemann says he intends to be one of the three keepers going to Germany. Based on his play last night, he is certainly among the top three now.

As for the others, they have the two remaining qualifying matches, and some friendlies next year to show they belong.

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

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