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It Seems To Me . . .

Thrilling win over Chile features many positives, a few negatives for U.S.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sunday, January 30, 2000) -- It's a shame that so few American soccer fans got to see Cobi Jones' 88th minute goal that gave the United States a 2-1 victory over Chile because it was not only one of the best national team goals in a while, but the triumph was potentially significant on several fronts.

Let me set the stage in Coquimbo, Chile. It was nearing the end of a rather lackluster match and both sides seemed to be accepting the fairness of a 1-1 draw. Roy Lassiter had been inserted for Eric Wynalda up front in the 56th minute and Cobi Jones had replaced a somewhat battered Ben Olsen in the midfield in the 70th minute. With about three minutes to go before injury time, Eddie Lewis, who had played the whole way at left wing, picked up the ball at about midfield. He came barreling down the left side.

Lassiter took off at a sprint for the near post drawing two defenders with him. Lewis' curving cross came instead to Jones running toward the far post. He took the pass in full stride and struck it back to the near post where it eluded Chilean keeper Marcelo Ramierz. Actually, Lassiter's foot was only inches behind the ball when it crossed the goal line.

All this week, I have been getting e-mails from fans decrying Cobi Jones' role on the team. Why, the letter writers ask, is Jones' starting; since, they claim, he can't finish and has only rarely scored at the international level. The goal in Coquimbo shows that Jones can finish.

When Joe-Max Moore returns to the team, there will be a number of choices for the U.S. at striker. For now it appears that Jones has kept himself in the running for one of those starting spots, and this wining goal may have silenced his critics for at least the time being.

Two weeks ago against Iran, Lewis did not have a particularly strong match. Against Chile, he not only set up Jones' winning goal, but opened the scoring for the U.S. in the 55th minute by nodding in a header off a free kick from Eric Wynalda. As good as the headed goal was, and it was enough in and of itself to earn Lewis “Man-of-the-Match” honors, his perfectly placed cross to Jones is more significant.

In U.S. coach Bruce Arena's offense, Lewis' main responsibility is to bring the ball down the wing and serve it into the center. He has been criticized for his lack of good placement of crosses so far this year. In fact, at the Rose Bowl against Iran, the rumor was that he was in danger of playing himself out of the starting side unless the quality of his crosses improved.

Lewis' effort in Chile showed what he is capable of. If he can continue to play at that level not only will he hold his starting spot, but he will also be a significant help to the U.S. for a long time to come.

Finally, there is the sore subject of the man fans seem to love to hate, Roy Lassiter. Forgetting whether he scores or not, Lassiter continues to show that when he is in a match, he is in constant motion and he stretches opponents' defenses. It was his move to the near post that pulled defenders away from Jones who thus was allowed to move unmarked into position to convert the Lewis cross. Until the U.S. develops another forward who can move with pace from the front, Lassiter rightly will continue in the mix for duty on this team.

There were a number of other hopeful things to come out of the match in Chile. It was good to see Eddie Pope running freely, seemingly over the string of injuries that hampered him last season.

The revelation of the match was the play of Los Angeles Galaxy defender Greg Vanney. He was terrific in Arena's three man back line, and he served notice that he has to be considered in the mix in the U.S.'s deep defense corps.

It was interesting to see Richie Williams and Chris Armas playing together in the same midfield. Arena went to a 3-5-2 formation and used Williams in the traditional defense role while freeing Armas up to play a more offensive midfield. Both responded well, with Williams constantly disrupting the Chilean offense.

It was nice to see Wynalda back in action. While he does not move with much pace, he is still able to free himself for some good opportunities, especially in a match as slow as the one last night was. In the first half, Wynalda got off a point blank blast that should have been the first U.S. goal, but it was very well saved by Ramirez.

There were a couple of less heartening facets to come out of the match. While it was nice to see Tony Meola back from his long recuperation from last season's knee injury, it was better to remember that both Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel are Americans. Meola was only called on to make a single save and at times looked a bit lost wandering around the penalty area trying in vain to cover crosses. He got a hand on Jamie Riveros' 35-yard scoring blast in the 58th minute, and probably should have been able to push it over the top.

Ante Razov went the distance at forward, without much result. Likewise, Jovan Kirovski, filling in for Claudio Reyna in the middle, continues to be a puzzle. It's not that he plays poorly, but at the end of the day often has little to show for his effort. John Harkes played the second half, also with little to report.

This was far from the strongest team Chile could have put on the field. Among the players missing for Chile were star forwards Ivan Zamorano and Marcelo Salas. Chile coach Nelson Acosta put his view of the match in perspective when he said "The result is not too important. After all, exhibition matches are mainly useful to try new tactics and new players, not to seek results."

But for Arena, and for the U.S., the victory on the road, was heartening. Under Arena, the team continues to play very aggressively, and continues to play as if they expect to win whoever they are playing. If the U.S. ends up playing Mexico in the Gold Cup final next month, it will be a very interesting match.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

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