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Analysis

U.S. defense collapses, Germany hands rout to depleted Americans.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

(Wednesday, March 22, 2006) -- For more than an hour tonight at Dortmund's Signal Iduna Park, the considerably undermanned United States men played a superior Germany side virtually even. Then, the roof caved in and the U.S. mistakes mounted with the result a 4-1 victory for Germany; a win that likely will save the victorious coach Jürgen Klinnsman his job.

Watching the young German team struggle through the first half and coming off 0-0 at the break to boos and whistles of the large home crowd of 54,500, one might realize this is simply not the powerhouse that has done so well in recent World Cups. That team got old, so Klinnsman is trying to bring in a number of young players and things just are not clicking yet. Germany had a couple of good chances over the first 45 minutes, but the shots were just off target. Both Lukas Podolski and Michael Ballack missed the mark with wide-open shots that appeared to have U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller beaten.

The U.S., in the meantime, was able to bottle up the Germans in the midfield for much of the half, though creating little on attack. The Americans started four defenders and two defensive midfielders, an alignment they might have to use at this summer's World Cup, and it was enough to deny the quicker and more skilled Germans many good opportunities.

The big difference in the game came when Keller could not catch up to Bastian Schweinsteiger's free kick in the first minute after intermission, while Germany keeper Oliver Kahn stretched out to make a stunning reaction save on U.S. forward Eddie Johnson's potentially equalizing header 19 minutes later.

Schweinsteiger sent his seemingly innocuous free kick from 25 yards up the left sideline into the middle of penalty area. With Germany striker Miroslav Klose running unmarked through the center of the box, drawing Keller's attention, Schweinsteiger's ball sailed over Klose's outstretched right foot and bounced once into the far corner before the preoccupied Keller could catch up with it, making it 1-0.

In the 66th minute, Johnson went high in the box and drilled a header toward the low, left side of the net, but Kahn dropped quickly to his right and blocked the potential tying tally with his right arm.

Then, the U.S. defense collapsed, conceding three goals in a six-minute span. Keller's Borussia Mönchengladbach teammate Oliver Neuville made it 2-0, given an open shot when U.S. central defenders Jimmy Conrad and Gregg Berhalter became confused and lost their marks in the 73rd minute. The blunder left U.S. manager Bruce Arena shaking his head.

The U.S. effort in back deteriorated further when Arena replaced defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni with Ben Olsen a minute later. Mastroeni had done a good job providing cover for his backs, but he was only gone for about a minute when Germany increased its margin to 3-0. Berhalter's weak pass was intercepted, leading to Klose's free run and goal from deep in the right side of the box.

The American defensive meltdown continued when German midfielder Micahel Ballack was wide open to take Klose's cross and head it 14 yards into the left corner of the net.

"We completely lost our composure there," U.S. defender Steve Cherundolo said. "We lost our organization. . . They took advantage of that. I hope this is a learning experience for the guys to know that you need to concentrate 100 percent at all times in the game. It just takes a few minutes. If you lack concentration, you can be down 4-0. I hope the guys take that from the game."

Arena stressed during preparations for the match that his first priority was not to get a positive result, but to look at his players, evaluating how they might perform on a large stage under great pressure. Few Americans helped their case for making the 23-man World Cup roster.

Cherundolo and Cory Gibbs helped themselves with their efforts on the outside of the back-line, but Berhalter and Conrad, the central defenders, did not. Mastroeni probably cemented his place on the team, while midfielder Bobby Convey showed how much he has improved in the last year while playing for Reading in England.

Johnson looked like his has recovered his form after injury woes, but otherwise, there were not many positives for the U.S. The fact that it took Germany 46 minutes to take the lead was more because the hosts lacked organization and cohesiveness, rather than any great accomplishment on the Americans' part.

The match was interesting until Germany's second-half flurry and, had Kahn not been able to deny Johnson, maybe the result might have been different. Still, the final score reflected what one might expect, considering Germany had its full team, while the U.S. was missing a half dozen or more of its projected World Cup starters to injury or club commitments.


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 5: He couldn't be blamed directly for any of the four goals he allowed, but he's done better in the past in such situations. He patrolled his box in his usual professional manner, but could not come up with the big save.

Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: The best U.S. defender. With Hannover 96, he plays against many of the Germany players, knew what to expect and was not intimidated in any way. He pushed forward well and was not beaten to the outside. His goal was a fluke and much too late.

Defender Gregg Berhalter - 4: Did OK for most of the first half, but his mistakes directly led to the second, and particularly the third, German goals.

Defender Jimmy Conrad - 4.5: Seemed overwhelmed at times. Did not work very well with Berhalter and, once his midfield support weakened, he began making critical mistakes.

Defender: Cory Gibbs - 5: He was beaten several times down the outside and gave the ball away a few times, but probably played much better than anyone might have expected, given he is just returning since being injured last summer. He had to come out with a leg contusion, which might have slowed him. All things considered, he acquitted himself well.

Midfielder Kerry Zavagnin - 5: Did all right with Mastroeni at his side and when the defense organized behind him, did not respond all that well when left on his own. Made some errors and gave the ball up too often. Can do better.

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 6: His value was evident after he came out and the defense collapsed. He did very well in denying German attackers many good chances and linked well pushing the ball forward.

Midfielder Bobby Convey - 6: Was the best U.S. player. He pushed the ball into the attack against some very good defenders and showed a developing maturity.

Forward Josh Wolff - 5: He took an early knock and had to come out. Was not effective and might have prevented a U.S. goal by misdirecting a shot that looked to be headed toward the far corner of the net.

Forward Brian Ching - 4.5: Did not really show up tonight. Was easily shrugged off by the German defense.

Forward Eddie Johnson - 5.5: Another player whose fitness and sharpness is in some question after injuries. He had some moments of brilliance, but then also disappeared at times.

Reserves

Midfielder Chris Klein (17th minute for Wolff) - 5: He put himself in position to do good things on a number of occasions, but did not deliver. Does not seem able to effectively use his off-foot very well which isn't a recipe for success on the international level.

Forward Taylor Twellman (60th minute for Ching) - 5: Did not get much service, but also did not put himself in position to be much help. Seemed to come in flat and was unable to pick his game up.

Midfielder Ben Olsen (74th minute for Mastroeni) - 5: Was forced to push forward when the U.S. fell behind and this left holes in the back. Worked hard, but offered little to improve either offense or defense.

Defender Heath Pearce (77th minute for Gibbs) - 5: Looked lost in his relatively brief appearance. Most of the damage was done by the time he got on the field, so he had little effect on the match.

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

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