- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 18, 2002

I don't want to set off any alarm bells, but if the U.S. team wants to get out of its opening round group at the World Cup, it will have to tighten up its defense. It didn't help this week when the team lost defensive midfielder Chris Armas to an ACL injury.
Great teams have great defenses just look at France's formidable back line at the 1998 World Cup and right now, the weakest link is the American backline. In Sunday's game against Uruguay at RFK Stadium, only the heroics of goalie Brad Friedel helped the U.S. team hold the 2-1 win. Uruguay, a second-tier team, didn't turn up for the game until the second half, and this was merely a World Cup warmup match. Wait until the Americans face the real test in Asia next month. It could get ugly.
Friedel was forced to make 13 saves, which begs the question, how come the defense allowed the South Americans to take so many shots? I was reminded very much of the U.S. team's loss to Honduras at RFK a year ago, when Milton Nunez and Milton Reyes shredded the American back line and nearly derailed the team's World Cup plans. Haven't we learned any lessons since then?
Most worrisome appears to be the right back role on the team. Both rightbacks, Tony Sanneh and his replacement Frankie Hejduk considered the fastest player in the U.S. camp were beaten on runs by Uruguay's speedy winger Mario Regueiro. Defender David Regis, on the left side, was also caught out of position a number of times in Sunday's game.
After the game, coach Bruce Arena and Sanneh said the Uruguayan forward was shirt-tugging. I checked the video, and it seems to me Regueiro was just darn good.
"Whoever thinks our back line is slow is mistaken," says Arena.
However, the Spanish-based striker beat Hejduk not once, but twice, on the touchline to get a shot at Friedel. If the unknown Reguerio was a handful, how will the Americans deal with world-class stars, Luis Figo and Manuel Rui Costa, when the U.S. team meets Portugal on July 5 in South Korea?
Watching Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos help Real Madrid down Bayer Leverkusen this week in the Champions League, made me realize how far we have to go in America to produce talented defenders. Carlos, 29, was breathtaking as he ran up and down the field like a traditional winger, defending, attacking, and then setting up two incredible goals. But let's stop dreaming here.
For the U.S. team's defense to succeed, it has to get help from the midfielders who must track back, while at the same time taking nothing away from Arena's attacking-minded soccer.
It's going to be very tough at the World Cup. American fans should not be fooled by their team's 10-3 record this year. Remember the team's three losses in 2002 all came on the road against European teams headed for the World Cup. The U.S. boys lost 1-0 at Italy, 4-2 in Germany and 2-1 in Ireland. In each of those games the Americans showed great promise only to make late defensive mistakes.
"You get punished when you make mistakes at the highest level," said Friedel.
Before the Germany game in March, the American team had recorded six shutouts but they were all against weaker teams. Against the Germans the U.S. defense gave up three goals in eight minutes.
It's not all bad news. The goalkeeping is excellent and the Americans are finally getting the ball in the back of the net. Scoring five goals against Jamaica this week is a good habit to get into.
Tomorrow the Americans play at Foxboro, Mass., against Holland, one of the best teams in the world, but sadly not one going to the World Cup.
It will be interesting to see how the American defense stands up against the talented Dutch players who may have their minds more on beaches of Florida.
MLS notes Is this becoming a trend? Landon Donovan signs for a German top club, fails to get playing time and returns to be a star in Major League Soccer. Now comes Taylor Twellman.
The former Maryland star left college early to sign with German club 1800 Munich two years ago. Like Donovan, who failed to get playing time at Bayer Leverkusen, Twellman ended up on his club's reserve team. He returned home and joined MLS this season. Last week, Twellman, 22, scored both goals as the New England Revolution downed the Dallas Burn.
American team star Earnie Stewart, who plays for NAC Breda in Holland, said this week he will likely play in MLS next season after playing 11 years in Holland.
International notes In the final FIFA rankings before the start of the World Cup, world champion France held the top position while Argentina and Brazil are tied for second Brazilian star Ronaldo looked unfit in Brazil's 5-0 victory over Spanish club Espanyol's reserve team this week. Reports said the former World Player of the Year blew a number of easy chances.

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide