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Despite hostile environs, U.S. gains driversí seat in Olympic qualifying.By Robert Wagman
HERSHEY, Pa. (Saturday, April 22, 2000) -- It was a wonderful homecoming for the two area boys.
Several key performers for the United States showed they can deliver under pressure. U.S. coach Clive Charles came away feeling vindicated in some of his player choices. Latin fans showed that wherever matches are scheduled, they will find their way there to passionately support their countrymen, and to turn the match into an away game for the U.S. on American soil.
These were some of the major talking points after the U.S. under-23 team defeated Honduras 3-0 in the first Group D match of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
The two dominant U.S. players last night in the Americansí 3-0 whipping of Honduras were the area products, D.C. United's Ben Olsen and Chris Albright. Olsen grew up 10 minutes from here in Middletown, and Albright is from down the road a piece in Penn Charter, near Philadelphia. Both had large numbers of family and friends watching them play.
"I had to come up with 60 some tickets," Olsen said with a laugh after the game. "I love playing so close to home, but getting those tickets was rough."
Honduras is not a team without talent. Perhaps its biggest asset is overall team speed. Most of its players have very good pace, and many possess good ball skills But Olsen was quicker than the midfielders playing opposite him, and Albright showed blazing speed for someone his size, as he broke through and outran the Honduran defense on several occasions.
The only quibble with Olsen's and Albright's performance was their lack of finishing in the first half. The two combined nicely for the U.S.'s first goal. But both had golden opportunities, one-on-one, against Honduran keeper Noel Valladares, but neither could put the ball past him.
Valladares played well despite the three U.S. goals. Had Olsen and Albright converted those two shots, the match would have been over before the interval.
Charles, who also coaches the University of Portland, has been criticized for starting one of his Portland players, Conor Casey, at striker, and including another, Brian Winters on the roster after Winters was waived out of MLS and ended up playing this year in the A-League.
Casey 6-foot-1 and 175 pounds, is as big as Albright. He is also as fast and possesses very good skills. At times, especially in the first half, he was able to collect the ball and to take on and beat two or more Honduran defenders.
Watching the match, D.C. United coach Thomas Rongen noted, "He could start for a half dozen MLS teams today. Like Chris (Albright) he has speed you don't often see in a player his size."
Later in the second half, Charles inserted Winters for central midfielder Peter Vagenas. Playing as a defensive midfielder to hold the lead, Winters did nothing to embarrass himself. After the match Charles said rather defiantly, "See, I told you he could play and deserves to be here."
Also heartening for the U.S. was the play of goalkeeper Adin Brown and the U.S. back four. Late in the first half, and into the second half, Honduras seemed to finally get used to the cold and the wet, and pushed forward in numbers. Brown was called on to make several sparkling saves, including stopping two point-blank blasts, back-to-back, in the 49th minute. He was well positioned and made both.
He showed quickness in the 57th minute when he came off his line to take the ball off the foot of Honduran striker Luis Ramirez.
The back four, especially Bian Dunseth and Chad McCarty, played partucularly well. Both showed the ability to keep up with the speedy Hondurans. Ramiro Corrales also played well on the outside, and his accurate passes started several of the plays that led directly to two U.S. goals and other dangerous chances.
The only cautionary note (pun fully intended) is that all three ended the night with yellow cards. They will have to be wary that they stay out of trouble on Tuesday against Canada or risk missing the semifinal next Friday.
Tonight was not a particularly good effort by either Vagenas, or by the Chicago Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley. Vagenas did not contribute much in the middle and Beasley, despite putting forth a lot of effort, got very little in the way of results. John Thorrington, who replaced Beasley in the 67th minute, turned in a strong performance, and the California native now playing for Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, probably earned a start on Tuesday.
John O'Brien, perhaps showing the effects of the trip back from Amsterdam, played well, but not spectacularly, in the defensive midfield.
In recent U.S. national team matches in Florida and California there has been much criticism of the crowds who tend to support the U.S.'s opponents. The cry has been if matches can just be played in some more remote venues, then the crowds would be all red, white and blue. With apologies to the good folks of central Pennsylvania, Hershey does not appear to be remote enough.
Of the 11,229 fans here tonight, certainly more than half, perhaps well more than half, were either Hondurans or Guatemalans or Panamanians who stayed after their opening match to root for their fellow Haspnics. It was a well-mannered crowd, but the stands were a sea of Honduran blue and white.
While the crowd might not have been all-American, the central Pennsylvania spring weather sure helped: 40 degrees and pouring rain. Panama's British coach, Gary Stemple said laughingly, "We were told it was spring in Hershey. When the lads got of the plane their mouths dropped open. For me, its does seem spring like. This is spring in northern England. But it was like 100 degrees when we left Panama."
Based on last night performances, if the rest of the tournament holds to form, the U.S. will win its ticket to Sydney. Based on its 2-1 victory over Panama, it looks like Guatemala will end up as the second place team in the other group, and will be the U.S.'s opponent in a semifinal next Friday.
Since it was playing in a freezing downpour, it is a bit hard to judge how good Guatemala is, but it does not
appear as strong as Honduras. While there is still a lot of soccer to be played here in the coming week, the U.S.
can feel god about its opening effort.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at email@example.com..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..