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Great qualifying results buoy U.S. men, but they must keep on evolving.By Robert Wagman
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras (Thursday, March 29, 2001) -- What a result for the U.S. men!
Trying to put things into perspective before last nightís 2-1 road victory over Honduras, coach Bruce Arena said: "Look, three points from our first two matches is OK. Four would be very good. Six would be terrific." He has gotten his fondest wish, six points after defeating Mexico and Honduras in the first two matches of CONCACAFís final round of Word Cup qualifying.
A win on the road. Wow!
Still, it is too early to celebrate with eight more qualifiers remaining.
The U.S continues to show it has depth. Had they been available, undoubtedly the starting 11 here would have included defender Eddie Pope, midfielders Claudio Reyna and Ben Olsen, and forwards Joe-Max Moore and Brian McBride. The fact that five starters were missing and the Americans still won was a tribute to the growth of the program.
The U.S. received a huge and unexpected gift from the Honduras federation when it decided to play this match midweek and, more importantly, to play it in the evening and not during the heat of the day. The match was originally penciled in for noon last Sunday, but the Hondurans opted for a higher fee if the game was not played simultaneously to the contest between Mexico and Jamaica, and more it was played at night.
Thus, for the extra dollars, Honduras gave up a perceived advantage of tropical heat.
Mother Nature also smiled on the Americans. A heat wave that had lasted two weeks ended Sunday and the last three days prior to the game were relatively mild. A nice breeze blew on the field during the match, easing the 80-degree heats effect on the players.
Obviously the U.S. offense without McBride and Moore sputters with neither Ante Razov nor Josh Wolff doing anything that would threaten a starter. By looking relaxed and effective on the midfielder flank, Tony Sanneh presented Bruce Arena with another problem. Arena sees Sanneh as a defender and only reluctantly put him into the midfield because of the injuries.
A somewhat shell shocked Honduran manager Ramon Maradiaga put the U.S. team into an interesting perspective. "I watched them play Mexico and Brazil," he said. "I knew we were not going to be able to play the ball through the middle of their defense. I thought we might do well out wide, but we didnít. We made mistakes tonight. But we were beaten by a better team. This is the best American team I have ever seen."
Maradiaga probably erred when decided not to start Jose Caesar de Leon. When de Leon came in at halftime, he not only scored a sensational tying goal, but he steadied the entire midfield.
Given the injuries and the difficulty playing in such a difficult setting, the American ability to shut down Hondurasí two high scoring forwards was all that more remarkable. Still, the offense simply must get better and offer some support to Earnie Stewart.
"These (qualifying) matches are being played for results," Arena said. "This is not the beautiful game. This is a war. Itís all about winning and qualifying. Points are what count."
Unfortunately, Arena will have to continue shifting his lineup in the near term. Cobi Jones, who was issued a red card in the 90th minute, will be suspended for the next qualifier April 25 in Kansas City, Mo.There was some confusion after the match with it appearing that Josh Wolff had also been shown a yellow, which would have put him out of the match against Costa Rica. But no card was reflected in the official match report. Also, the previous yellow given defender Carlos Llamosa was wiped from his record at the start of this round, so the yellow he received last night will not force him to miss the next match.
Look for Kasey Keller to start in goal against Costa Rica. Brad Friedel will likely not be called in because his club Blackburn of Englandís first division will be at fighting for promotion.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be
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Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..