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U.S. reserves have little difficulty in disposing of Venezuela.

Knee injury shelves Gibbs, Berhalter joins World Cup effort; Reyna appears OK.

Americans have causes for concern after loss to Morocco.

Reyna, Keller are each named to their fourth World Cup team.

Poor U.S. effort leads to disappointing 1-1 draw with Jamaica.

Donovan becomes leader in career assists as U.S. draws 1-1 with Jamaica.

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

Hejduk has strained hamstring, is replaced by Feilhaber on roster for Germany match.

Donovan scratched for game against Germany with calf ailment.

Dempsey dropped from Germany roster after suspension by Revs for fight.

Gulati is acclaimed new USSF president; board size is slashed.

Three games in May are scheduled as final World Cup prep.

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Analysis

Americans again have trouble scoring, but McBride finishes Latvia.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (Sunday, May 28, 2006) -- The United States men did not exactly light up the scoreboard in defeating Latvia 1-0 tonight at Rentschler Field. However, unlike Tuesday's 1-0 setback to Morocco, when the Americans fashioned few scoring opportunities, but quite similar to Friday's 2-0 victory over Venezuela, the U.S. had good ball movement, created many chances and should have scored a few more goals with better finishing or perhaps a poorer opposing goalkeeper.

After suffering a large knot of the right side of his forehead early in the contest, striker Brian McBride became the one American to convert -- his header in the 43rd minute proving decisive for the U.S. in its final tuneup before departing for the World Cup in Germany.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena started tonight what is probably close to the lineup he intends to start June 12 in the World Cup opener against the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen with the exception of Claudio Reyna in the midfield and Oguchi Onyewu on the back-line, both of whom sat out tonight's contest. Reyna, who ran agility drills with defender Carlos Bocanegra before tonight's match, is rehabilitating the right hamstring he strained early Tuesday against Morocco, while Onyewu and striker Josh Wolff were rested after being the only two players to start both against Morocco and Venezuela.

"Our three opponents this past week played quite well," Arena said. "They all pushed us physically. Tonight, we had a pretty tired group, but we created a bunch of good chances. But we were a bit sloppy in the second half and gave them some opportunities, but overall we played well.

Several interesting development were evident tonight. DaMarcus Beasley, who normally plays on the left side of midfield, played wide right, at times resembling a wing forward. John O'Brien opened on the left with Landon Donovan in the middle.

Eddie Lewis was at left back, where he likely will be for the U.S. in the World Cup. He often worked in tandem with O'Brien in front of him, with O'Brien dropping back to cover when Lewis pushed forward. O'Brien, who took a physical pounding in the first half, bounced up whenever he went down and that certainly was heartening. The O'Brien-Lewis combination was one very positive note for the U.S. tonight.

O'Brien has suffered numerous injuries since his standout performance in the 2002 World Cup and has been mostly inactive for the last year, but now seems ready to resume his role for the Americans "I feel fine," he said smiling. "I took some knocks, but I gave them out too. I think I am ready to go full out."

Arena expressed satisfaction with O'Brien's progress. "He still has a ways to go," he said. "He has not reached complete match fitness and probably will not be ready to go 90 minutes against the Czech Republic, but he starting to look like the John of old."

The Latvians of coach Juris Andrejevs were a veteran squad, professionals in Russia, the Ukraine or Latvia. The team which finished fifth in its European World Cup qualifying group with a 4-5-3 record -- Portugal won the group with Slovakia as runnerup -- does not feature many top quality players, but it is very organized. While Latvia did not play as defensively as Morocco did on Tuesday night, it often had nine men behind the ball and were difficult to break down.

The U.S. struggled through the first 10 minutes looking for some cohesion, but finding little. It took until the 13th minute for the Americans to combine on their first good passing effort and, after that, they seemed to settle in. The U.S. often tried to spring striker Eddie Johnson behind the Latvian defense and it almost succeeded several times.

Where the U.S. was effective over the first 45 minutes was swinging the ball wide and then sending it back into the middle. Right back Steve Cherundolo pushed forward often and put in several quality crosses with McBride finally succeeding on one, powering a seven-yard header into the right side of the net just before halftime.

Actually, the U.S. could have had two more goals in the first half, but Latvian keeper Aleksandrs Kolinko, formerly of England's Crystal Palace, came up big twice, denying Donovan and McBride. After intermission, he denied Johnson and McBride again.

The Latvian who gave the U.S. the biggest problem in the first half, before departing, was big, physical Dinamo Moscow striker Andrejs Prohorenkovs. He moved up and down the front line, and was at various times matched up against Pope, Conrad and Lewis. All handled him well, especially Pope. In the second half, Latvia captain and midfielder Vitalijs Astafjevs triggered some long-range efforts, one of which gave U.S. keeper Kasey Keller some difficulty.

As the second half progressed, the U.S. pushed more and more players forward. This left huge amounts of space at the back and shortly after the hour, Viktors Morozs, Maris Verpakovskis and Girts Karlsons (twice) had open shots, but none came close to their target. Just as stoppage time began, Keller was forced to lay out to stop a header from Karlsons off a free kick.

Now, the U.S. players will get three days off before flying to Germany. They will play a match, closed to fans and the media, against Angola on June 5.

"This has been quite a grind," Arena said. "We all need a few days off. We've run them into the ground over the last three weeks. Now we'll back off and concentrate on getting ready for June 12."


U.S. player ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6: Took care of his area well. Not called on early, but had a busier second half. Made one key save as regulation expired.

Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6.5: Ran up and down the wing at will, sending in a number of quality crosses, including the beauty for the only U.S. goal.

Defender Eddie Pope - 5.5: Played solidly with few errors. Did well in the first half against Prohorenkovs, Latvia's best player. Tailed off somewhat late.

Defender Jimmy Conrad - 5.5: Playing his second full match in 48 hours, he was not as sharp as he was on Friday against Venezuela. He visibly tried as the match wore on, but all in all, made few errors.

Defender Eddie Lewis - 5.5: Like Cherundolo on the other side, he frequently advanced forward up the left flank. He made some good defensive stops, he combined well with O'Brien and also sent in some high quality crosses.

Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 6: Another fine game in the defensive midfield. Was very active and helped hold the Latvians to few chances.

Midfielder John O'Brien - 5.5: He still has a ways to go in sharpness, but did well in his 66 minutes before leaving. Mixed it up physically and did not seem to suffer, surely a boost to his morale.

Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7: Worked 90 physical minutes, running constantly in one of his best overall recent national-team efforts. At times, led the attack from the middle while, at other times, dropped far back into the defensive end. The kind of effort one would hope to see from him on every outing.

Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Had a good match playing wide on the right side. He took a pounding and after the match headed straight for the training room. Helped create ball movement, but wasted a pinpoint pass, setting him up alone in the right side of the penalty area. His finishing is still not where it needs to be.

Forward Eddie Johnson - 5.5: He had a number of golden chances, but could not convert. Needs better finishing but, on the plus side, was very active and did create some chances.

Forward Brian McBride - 6.5: Scored a good goal, creating chances for himself and for others. A better outing than against Morocco.

Reserves

Midfielder Bobby Convey (66th minute for O'Brien) - 5.5: Added some late energy to the tired Americans. He made several good runs, but could not finish. Also did some good defensive work, showing what he likely can add to the team in Germany.

Forward Brian Ching (83rd minute for Johnson) - 5 He helped a bit defensively, but otherwise had no effect on the match.

Midfielder Michael Bradley (83rd minute for Mastroeni) - 5.5: The non-roster player came in for a second straight game and made two good defensive stops.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.

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