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Charles faces several difficult decisions when he picks his final Olympic side.By Robert Wagman
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, May 17, 2000) Ė United States men's Olympic coach Clive Charles is facing some hard choices over the next several weeks.
Charles' immediate problems are which three over age-23 players to add to his squad for Sydney, and how to replace injured starting right back, Steve Cherundolo. Olympic rules and those of world governing body FIFA allow three "overage players" to be added for the competition.
The initial question Charles faces is whether to add a goalkeeper -- presumably Kasey Keller or Brad Friedel. Adin Brown, the MLS rookie who has already sparked European interest, put in two strong performances in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Hershey, Pa., shutting out both Honduras and Guatemala. There is little doubt that he can play up to an international standard, but he is already developing a reputation as something of a fragile player.
He has missed Major League Soccer matches this year, and he went down with a training injury in Hershey that forced him out of the match against Canada. So for Charles, the burning question is whether he can trust that Brown will remain fit for the entire Summer Games in Australia.
Brown's backup in Hershey, the Metrostars' Tim Howard, did not embarrass himself. But he was clearly not Brown's caliber, and a far cry from either Keller or Friedel. So question number one for Charles is whether to roll the dice, assume Brown will start all the matches, and not call up one of the U.S.'s top two keepers.
Complicating the issue is that it s probable that neither Keller nor Friedel will be thrilled by the idea of spending September in Australia. Keller will have to fight to hold his starting role at Rayo Vallecano in Spain. Friedel may well change teams over the summer and will be fighting for a position with his new team. And both will miss playing time in Europe with the full U.S. national team with World Cup qualifying starting in July.
There seems general agreement that one overage player that Clive will definitely add is the Chicago Fire's Chris Armas. The Fire is already making plans not to have him around for the playoffs.
The U.S. has not shown badly in the defensive midfield. But the growing consensus is that with Armas playing in front of the defense, John O'Brien, who has filled the defensive midfield role, will be freed up to push forward and to play more offensively. That's the real problem for the U.S. There arenít any Americans who can really play the holding midfield role, a player who can control and direct play, swing the ball from side to side, and then move into attack when necessary. In other words, there isnít a Marco Etcheverry or a Carlos Valderrama.
Some have suggested the obvious answer is to add Glasgow Rangers' Claudio Reyna. But Reyna is not really adapting to an Etcheverry type role. He plays a defensive role for Rangers and he appears to have difficulty shifting into a more offensive mind set. Moreover, Rangers will be involved in Champions League play next September and their coach, Dick Advocaat, has already said in so many words that any of his players who leave in September had better find another place to play. While his comments were directed at his team's two Australian players, he would not look kindly on Reyna leaving.
O'Brien, who plays for Ajax of Amsterdam is probably the best potentially in the middle. But even more than Reyna at Rangers, his role at Ajax is almost purely defensive, and his creativity and flair is slowly being stripped away by his Dutch coaches.
If Charles decides not to add a goalkeeper, and chooses Armas, that leaves him two further additions. U.S. defenders acquitted themselves well in Hershey. But now with Cherundolo out, Charles almost has to shore up his defense. He could shoot craps and bring in another under-23 player, either the Kansas City Wizardsí Nick Garcia or New England Revolutions' Rusty Pierce, who is off to a very good start in his first MLS season.
One weakness that was apparent in Hershey was on the left side. DeMarcus Beasley does not seem ready to step in yet. When John Thorrington was inserted on the right, and Ben Olsen was moved over to the left, things improved. So one line of thinking is to add English First Division Fulham's Eddie Lewis as an overage player at the left midfield and let Olsen play on the right.
This is not going to be an easy decision for Charles. He is a great believer in team chemistry. He is genuinely concerned that sitting down three starters, and leaving three players who have been with the squad at home when the others get on the plane, might hurt the team more than it will help.
"It's very, very hard," Charles said. "I just hate the thought. I just hate the idea of having to tell three of these
players who have worked so hard for the last two years that they are not going. I guess I'll have to do it. But I'll
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..