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  • Twellman's hustle sets up Dempsey's opportunistic header to beat Poland 1-0.

    Analysis

    U.S. victory over Poland is welcome, but not particularly satisfying.

    By Robert Wagman
    SoccerTimes

    (Wednesday, March 1, 2006) -- In the most significant match for the United States men so far in the run-up to this summer's World Cup in Germany, the Americans didn't play particularly well, but still defeated Poland 1-0 tonight at snowy Fritz-Walter Stadion in Kaiserslautern, Germany.

    It was only the second time in Arena's tenure as U.S. manager that his team defeated a European opponent on its home soil. The U.S. is now 2-7-1 in those situations under Arena, the only previous victory also coming against Poland, a 1-0 decision March 31, 2004, in Plock.

    Tonight, Arena had his European-based players at his disposal for the first time in 2006. They represent at least half of his projected starters for the World Cup. While Arena certainly can be happy with the result, he is probably much less satisfied with his team's play, especially over the first 45 minutes.

    The U.S. could do little right in the first half. The team had almost no shape and its only legitimate chance on goal came late in the half when defender Steve Cherundolo bent a free kick a foot or so wide of the left post.

    As has been too often the case when the U.S. plays against a quality opponent without injured Claudio Reyna to control the match from the midfield, the Americans were aimless in the middle. Much of the first-half attack consisted of Eddie Lewis bringing the ball up the left side from his position in back, and midfielder DaMarcus Beasley making somewhat ineffectual runs at the strong Polish defense.

    Fulham striker Brian McBride was held out of the match as a precaution after he tweaked his hamstring in training. Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman showed their relative inexperience at the international level by not moving well off the ball and not creating space or making themselves available for passes. To his credit, Twellman did earn his cap by creating the havoc that led to the U.S. goal in the 48th minute.

    Poland did not do much better. It was able, at times, to move the ball out of its own end, but the U.S. defensive line held up well and Kasey Keller did a good job patrolling his area, resulting in few, if any, real chances.

    At the start of the second half, the U.S. seemed more organized and more determined. It pushed the ball forward and, in the 47th minute, was able to take advantage of an error by newly inserted Polish keeper, Celtic of Scotland's Artur Boruc. U.S. midfielder Eddie Lewis sent a cross from the left flank into the middle of the penalty area where Boruc came out to punch it away. Twellman had gone up with two defenders in an effort to get to the ball and had Boruc's clearance hit him in the head. The ball caromed to the far post where midfielder Clint Dempsey put the bouncing ball away with a diving header from two yards for the decisive tally.

    Poland coach Pawel Janas has a major goalkeeping controversy on his hands. Boruc has been in net for his nation's past three friendlies, but Liverpool veteran Jerzy Dudek, who has lost favor with his English Premier League team, is demanding playing time. So is Tomasz Kuszczak of the EPL's West Bromwich Albion

    Dudek played the first half without any problem and, had he been allowed to play the whole game, the Americans might have wound up with a scoreless draw.

    After the goal, the U.S. dropped back to protect its lead and did well not allowing Poland any real scoring opportunities. Then, both coaches began to substitute and the snow began to fall in ever increasing amounts, leaving the final third of the match to be played mainly in the midfield with neither side threatening.

    Over 90 minutes, the strength of the U.S. was in its defense. Both the American back-line and defensive midfield continued strong even after starters were replaced. The midfield disrupted Polish offensive thrusts, but the U.S. offense attack was limited to some runs out of the midfield with the forward line contributing little.

    A long-standing American problem continues to be its right side. With Lewis and Beasley providing much off the offense, the team tends to be left-handed. Dempsey did score the goal coming from the right midfield, but the team needs he or his replacement Chris Klein to step up. Defender Steve Cheundolo attacked well up the right flank, but did it without sufficient help.

    Janas is far from set on his World Cup roster. He brought 30 players to town for a training match against FC Kaiserslautern and tonight's game. Among his squad were probably a number who will be playing when they face host Germany, Costa Rica and Ecuador in Group A.

    In the end, the U.S. came away with a satisfactory result in less than pleasant conditions. Some players, especially in the back, did very well, but the team continues to demonstrate weaknesses that must be fixed by June if the Americans hope to advance from Group E.


    U.S. player ratings

    Starters

    Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6.5: Once again, he was not called on to do a lot, but controlled his penalty area well, was aggressive and made the stops he had to.

    Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: He pushed the ball forward well and gave up nothing on defense. His well-taken free kick, which missed just wide right, was the best U.S. chance in the first 45 minutes. A quality showing by an experienced professional.

    Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6: Used his size to great advantage in playing a solid match. He is obviously gaining experience by playing in Europe and seems to have left his mistakes behind him. He made a major statement today that he should be a starter in June.

    Defender Gregg Berhalter - 5.5: Made few errors and was in position to provide support when Lewis pushed forward or Onyewu ventured upfield. He is in the mix for a starting role in June.

    Defender Eddie Lewis - 7: A "Player of the Match" performance. Always a midfielder, he answered the question of whether, as a back, he can stay with speedy forwards by cutting off both Tomasz Frankowski and Euzebiuz Smolarek. At the same time, he created much of the U.S. attack, not only pushing the ball forward up the left side, but staying forward to essentially play in the midfield for long stretches. His well-placed free kick into the penalty area from the left sideline wound up with a fortunate deflection that Dempsey headed into Poland's net.

    Midfielder Kerry Zavagnin - 5.5: Provided good support for the defense in the hour he played and made several key defensive stops. However, he did not really provide much of a link from back to front. a role his position demands. Did nothing to hurt his chances, but probably not much to advance his World Cup case either.

    Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: Alertly scored the U.S. goal in a very energetic performance that saw him all over the field. His problem is neither desire nor output, but continues to be consistent effectiveness. He does not cause much to happen and is knocked off the ball easily, often hoping the referee will help him out. His performance was good, but maybe just not good enough to get him to Germany.

    Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Worked tirelessly on the left side and occasionally on the right but, like Dempsey, accomplished less than might be hoped for. At times, he was the main offensive threat, but was a marked man and kept in check by the Polish midfield.

    Midfielder Landon Donovan - 5.5: As is too often the case, he had a number of quality moments, but then disappeared for long stretches.

    Forward Eddie Johnson - 5: Probably would not have started had McBride been available. Spent much of the match dropping deep into the midfield to do some good defensive work, but did not work himself into positions to create much offensively. Had one good chance which he rushed and wasted. Continues to show lack of experience and possibly a lack of match fitness.

    Forward Taylor Twellman - 5.5: After scoring four goals in his last two starts against lesser competition, he could not repeat his results against experienced professionals tonight. He suffered from lack of quality service, but his hustle and aggressiveness forced the Polish mistake that led directly to Dempsey's winner.

    Reserves

    Goalkeeper Tim Howard (46th minute for Keller) - 5.5: Was positioned well, a problem on occasion in earlier appearances. Poland was able to mount few challenges but, on one occasion, he ventured far out of box, perhaps unwisely. Fortunately for him, Poland was unable to capitalize.

    Defender Carlos Bocanegra (46th minute for Berhalter) - 5.5: Did fine and was more willing to push forward more often than the player he replaced. Made a few small errors, but nothing that put the U.S. at risk.

    Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni (56th minute for Zavagnin) - 6: Helped shut down Polish threats over the final 30-plus minutes as the conditions degraded. He is somewhat more experienced at the international level than Zavagnin and was able to cover more ground and to connect better with the attack.

    Midfielder Bobby Convey (71st minute for Beasley) - 5.5: Made several good runs and is showing a new maturity as he gains more experience professionally in England.. Might have been interesting to see what he could have done over 90 minutes.

    Forward Josh Wolff (79th minute for Johnson) - 5.5: By the time he got in, conditions were poor and both teams increasingly struggled. He put in a good effort without much to show for it.

    Midfielder Chris Klein (89th minute for Dempsey) - no rating: Mop-up duty and a match paycheck.


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

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