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It Seems To Me . . .

Arena turns to veterans for Barbados qualifier and no room for error.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

Bruce Arena
Bruce Arena
(Wednesday August 9, 2000) -- Because of injuries and club commitments, United States coach Bruce Arena did not have the players he really wanted either on the field, or on the bench, when the U.S. played its first two World Cup qualifiers on the road last month in Guatemala and Costa Rica. The result was a 1-1 tie with Guatemala and a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica, leaving the Americans with one point and a must-win situation in the remaining four matches of the CONCACAF semifinal round of qualifying.

Now, with perhaps one or two exceptions, he has all the players he wants as he turns to a veteran roster for the World Cup qualifier against Barbados next Wednesday at Foxboro Stadium outside of Boston.

Despite much agitation from some fans that the U.S. needs to interject some fresh blood, and younger players into the national side, going back to the veterans is probably the correct decision.

"I think having a large pool of good players is very important, Arena said. "Obviously in the first two games we had to work hard to get 18 players with a combination of club commitments and injuries. This time around, this is the strongest roster that we had in a long time. I'll have to make some tough decisions, which is good. But it also gives us some very good players coming off the bench when needed late in the game. I think it is a positive."

The U.S. should be considerably better than what is essentially a semi-professional team from a small Caribbean island. But there will be a great deal of pressure on the U.S. to get on top early and win big. Arena is looking to players with a lot of international experience who can handle this kind of pressure and understand that the goal is to score early and then not let up.

It is important that the U.S. not only win Wednesday night, but win easily and build up a positive goal differential. Guatemala defeated Barbados 2-0 at home, so the U.S. must push to win by more than two goals. If the Americans wins, but struggle, the pressure on them will be even greater in the next two home encounters against Guatemala September 3 in Washington, D.C. and against Costa Rica October 11 in Columbus, Ohio .

Joe-Max Moore
Joe-Max Moore
Arena is not expected to name his starting lineup until the Tuesday night. It will be interesting to see who starts up front and in the offensive midfield. On the front line, almost certainly, will be the returning Joe-Max Moore and Brian McBride. But Arena will have to choose between three players to slot in behind them. Earnie Stewart, Cobi Jones and Eddie Lewis all will be vying to start.

Lewis did not have a good outing in either of the first two matches, but he was fighting shoulder problems, and has actually looked better since returning to Fulham in the English First Division where he has been showing well in preseason matches.

Moving Jones to the left side, essentially in behind McBride, could allow him more room to create. Matches in which he has scored have been when he has played as essentially a withdrawn forward. This will also give Arena the opportunity of using the Chicago Fire's Ante Razov off the bench to add a second-half spark. It appears that Razov is more effective in a reserve role than as a starter.

Arena is clearly expecting much from Moore, who says he is completely recovered from a knee injury that ended his English season several weeks early last year and which was slow to respond to treatment. Moore scored twice for Everton in a preseason match Monday night.

Although Arena has not publicly criticized his defense, it seemed clear he was unhappy at its inability to hold a lead one week, and gain a draw the next. He has gone back to Jeff Agoos and Carlos Llamosa, with the two veteran D.C. United defenders replacing two from the Los Angeles Galaxy, Robin Fraser and Greg Vanney.

An interesting decision will be who to start in the back. If Arena plays four defenders, he could use Eddie Pope and David Regis on the outside with Llamosa and Agoos in the center. He could also go with only three defenders and position both Chicago's Chris Armas and Ajax of Amsterdam's John O'Brien in the defensive midfield.

The only regular missing from the roster is goalkeeper Kasey Keller who will remain in Spain with his Rayo Vallencano team. Rayo has UEFA Cup qualifying matches over the next two weeks and Keller is fighting to regain his starting spot that he lost after an injury last season.

"There's no doubt that (Keller) is our number one," Arena said. "It's important to us that he wins the starting role at Rayo. That way he's be ready for Guatemala on September 3."

Not having Keller in camp does set up an interesting goalkeeping competition between No. 2 Brad Friedel, under contract to Liverpool in the British Premier League and the Kansas City Wizardsí Tony Meola. Friedel has the international experience and should get the start while Meola has had a strong year with Kansas City.

"Friedel has played in numerous games with us this year, and is a lot more familiar with our players," Arena said. "He understands what we are doing tactically and that gives him the edge right now."

Meola has not played with the national side since early in the year, and is generally regarded as the number three keeper.

So Arena has the players he thinks he needs and if he is right, the U.S. should have an easy time. If that is the case, there likely wonít be many other roster changes except for Kellerís return.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com..

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