- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Bruce Arena should be sleeping well these nights. The U.S. national team coach, who has to get his troops ready for World Cup qualifying this summer, has seen many of his key players make headlines in recent days.

Last weekend two American World Cup stars made their debuts in England and Germany with very positive results. Brian McBride scored the game-winner in his first game for English Premier League club Fulham. Clint Mathis, who needs a few breaks after an horrendous year with Major League Soccer’s MetroStars, scored a goal in his first game for German club Hannover.

In Mexico, meanwhile, D.C. United and U.S. team member Bobby Convey has become a scoring machine. Convey, 20, scored two goals in the U.S. under-23 team’s 4-3 victory over Panama in Olympic qualifying Tuesday, then had two more in a 2-0 defeat of Canada two days later to assure the United States of a spot in the semifinals. Landon Donovan, another key player in Arena’s plans, also got on the scoresheet against Panama and assisted on Convey’s goals against Canada.

On Wednesday in England, American defender Carlos Bocanegra cleared the ball off the line in Fulham’s 2-1 win over Everton as the club advanced to the last 16 in the F.A. Cup.

Though his team didn’t win, American World Cup goalie Brad Friedel pulled off a brilliant save Sunday to deny Chelsea’s Frank Lampard a hat trick in Blackburn’s 3-2 loss.

Tim Howard, who could challenge Friedel for the starting job on the national team, had a shaky game in the nets in Manchester United’s 3-2 win over Southampton on Saturday, but the big American pulled off a marvelous acrobatic save to maintain United’s lead. One TV commentator called it the “save of the season.” Howard was named to European Sports Magazines’ “Team of the Month” for December.

All this bodes well for the Americans when they travel to Amsterdam on Feb.18 to face a talented Dutch team in an exhibition game. The U.S. team is 0-2 against Holland and has not won a game in Europe since beating Austria 3-0 in April 1998.

McBride and Bocanegra, have been called up for the Dutch game, as well as American midfielder John O’Brien, who plays with top club Ajax in Holland.

However, all is not well for America’s other goalie, Kasey Keller, whose Tottenham Hotspur club blew a three-goal halftime lead Thursday while losing to Claudio Reyna’s Manchester City 4-3 in the F.A. Cup. In one of its greatest comebacks ever, City put four goals past Keller, who was lucky to be on the field after pulling down Chinese defender Sun Jihai early in the game. City now will play Manchester United for a spot in the F.A. Cup quarterfinals.

Keller will be looking behind him because Tottenham is expected to sign Leeds United goalie Paul Robinson at the end of the season to give the American some competition.

Another American set to make some big bucks overseas is former Chicago Fire goalie Zach Thornton who recently signed a contract with Portugal’s Benfica. A Baltimore native, Thornton, 30, helped the Fire win four titles, including the MLS Cup in 1998.

Moving in the other direction, two American national team players joined Major League Soccer from overseas clubs. Defender Cory Gibbs, 24, left St. Pauli in Germany to join the Dallas Burn. And yesterday the Los Angeles Galaxy signed forward Jovan Kirovski, 27, whose contract with Birmingham City in the English Premier League was canceled. Kirovski has played with six clubs in Europe since 1992 and competed for the U.S. team 59 times.

United news — D.C. United defender Milton Reyes has been called up to the Honduras national team to face Lithuania in a friendly Feb.18, in Honduras. Reyes, 29, missed all of United’s 2003 season with a torn ACL. … Jamie Cureton, who had a tryout with D.C. United last season before deciding to join South Korean club Busan Icons, has signed with high-flying Queens Park Rangers of England’s Second Division.

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