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With proper effort, U.S. should be booking trip for Summer Olympics.By Robert Wagman
HERSHEY, Pa. (Thursday, April 27, 2000) -- When 11 young Americans take the field tomorrow night in quest of a ticket to the Summer Olympics in Sydney in September, they will playing the most important match of their young lives.
In terms of the importance to soccer in this country, qualifying for the Olympics is second only to qualifying for the World Cup. While a Ben Olsen may have played in MLS Cups, or a John O'Brien in front of sold out stadiums in Europe, you can't face more pressure than playing at home, in a match you are supposed to win, but against a talented and underrated foe, in a one-loss-and-you're-out situation.
The evening’s CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament semifinals start tomorrow with Mexico facing Honduras at 5:30 p.m. followed by the United States and Guatemala at 8. The two semifinal winners advance as the two Summer Games participants from the region of North America, Central American and the Carribean.
The U.S. under-23 men have shown two very different faces here. In its first match last Friday, they were loose and played flowing soccer, scoring three goals while playing solidly on defense. The only negatives were that their finishing was not crisp and the team should have had three goals by halftime – instead of one -- and won more easily. The U.S. also could be faulted for its midfield play, especially in the center. In the 3-0 victory over Honduras, the attack was mainly down the wings with Olsen carrying much of the load.
Then on Tuesday’ against Canada, the attack lost its flair and Clive Charles' lads had to settle for an uninspired 0-0 draw. Knowing they would advance to tomorrow's semifinal, and as group winner if they could avoid losing by more than three goals, the Americans team came out flat and played that way for most of the night.
Guatemala, the U.S.'s opponent tomorrow, is formidable. Twice in Olympic qualifying, including last Friday here, it played powerful Mexico to draws. Guatemala has speed and many of its players possess high skill levels. To win, the U.S. will have to play as well or better than it did against Honduras in the opener.
Going into this match there are several question marks for the U.S. Central defender and captain Brian Dunseth will have to sit this one out as a result of getting his second yellow card of the tournament against Canada, not to mention the red card he also received which will have him suspended for Sunday’s virtually meaningless championship match.
His place will be taken by Dan Califf, a rookie with of Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy. Califf is a good young defender, but Dunseth has more experience and will be missed.
Then there is a question of who will be in goal. The Colorado Rapids’ Adin Brown had a strong match against Honduras in the opener, but suffered a knee strain in training on Monday and was on the bench Tuesday. The MetroStars' Tim Howard played well enough to shut out Canada on Tuesday, but the U.S. will need Brown back in nets to be at its best. He is listed as day-to-day, but is expected to play. Whether he will be at 100 percent is another matter.
What does the U.S. need to do to win? It needs to play with the same offensive flair it did against Honduras, and the forwards, D.C. United's Chris Albright and the University of Portland's Conor Casey must finish their chances. Casey has been very impressive so far, but he is young and the pressure of tomorrow’s match will test his maturity. The U.S. has to play better in the middle. In the late going against Honduras, Bayer Leverkusen's John Thorrington came off the bench to provide some balance in the middle, taking relieving Olsen of some of the load. Thorrington played a strong match as a starter against Canada.
One key will be for O'Brien to push more forward and get more into the offense. He tends to fall back into the same defensive midfield role he is hued to playing for Ajax in Amsterdam.
There will be a lot of pressure on the U.S. four defenders. It would appear that Guatemala will try to isolate its speedy forwards one-on-one against the U.S. defenders and try to beat them with pure speed. Against Honduras the U.S. defenders showed they have good pace. They will need it tomorrow night.
If the U.S. plays its game, it should win, but if the U.S. puts forward the same effort it did against Canada, it could
end up watching the Olympics on television.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com..