- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 15, 2006

HAMBURG, Germany — After Monday’s bruising 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, the U.S. players who faced the press yesterday were three young rookies — Eddie Johnson, Oguchi Onyewu and Bobby Convey — who might still be pinching themselves over being at the World Cup.

But Convey looked so relaxed, he might as well have been at Disney World.

It has been quite a year for the 23-year-old. First he had a breakthrough year playing in England and his club (FC Reading) was promoted to the famous and lucrative English Premier League. Now he has reached the pinnacle for any player: starting in the World Cup.

While the U.S. team was soundly embarrassed in the loss, with many of the Americans veterans AWOL, U.S. coach Bruce Arena praised Convey, who appears likely to start Saturday against Italy at Kasierslautern.

Against the Czechs, Convey made a few good crosses, including one that led to an Eddie Johnson shot, but he will have to do even more against three-time World Cup champion Italy.

“They have one of the best defenses in the world, but they are getting older,” Convey said. “We just need to run at them and get in crosses. We have to create chances. It will be hard, but we have to break them down.”

As one of the younger players on the team, Convey knows this World Cup might be the chance of a lifetime for him.

“This is a huge shop window for young guys to do well,” he said.

Convey, who began his pro career with D.C. United as a 16-year-old, has come along fast despite a few bumps along the way.

Always ambitious — some have used the word selfish — Convey has always had a single-minded drive to make it to the top, even if he came across as a little cocky at times. But it was that same drive and determination that made him the youngest player to sign with Major League Soccer and finally got him playing overseas.

Unlike Landon Donovan, who came back home after not getting playing time in Germany, Convey stuck in out through the tough times in England. Come August, he will be starting in the best league in the world.

Now the Philadelphia native faces the biggest game of his life so far as the U.S. team fights for survival against Italy, which has already beaten Ghana 2-0. A loss to Italy would mean a likely trip home for the Americans after their game against Ghana on June22.

“When you play against World Cup players, they don’t make mistakes and punish you if you make a mistake,” Convey said. “We have to start well against Italy.”

Convey’s role will be to fly down the left flank and give his strikers good crosses — something that was lacking in the Czech game.

“There is no reason for the Italian team to take us lightly,” said Convey, who rooms with his former United teammate Eddie Pope. “They have a way of playing and won’t change it against us.”

One of Italy’s strengths is defense. But its backline is aging and if any combination can crack the Italians, it will be Convey and the speedy Johnson.

“Our strength is our speed,” Convey said. “We need to play quicker and be relaxed. We need to get the ball wide and get more crosses in, and our set-pieces are crucial. We need to link up better and get through that first 10 minutes.”

Convey said some of the players didn’t know what their roles were against the Czechs because the game plan was abandoned after the European team scored in the fifth minute.

“It had nothing to do with preparation, [it was] execution,” he said.

Miracles can happen. The North Koreans pulled one of the biggest World Cup upsets when they beat Italy 1-0 in 1966.

“We have to go into this game like the playoffs — one game and you’re out,” Johnson said.

Notes — Former Howard University goalie Shaka Hislop, who plays for Trinidad & Tobago, will long remember his brilliant World Cup debut in the scoreless tie with Sweden.

“[Playing against Sweden] was the proudest day of my career. I’ll die a happy man,” he said. Hislop faces England today in Nuremberg …

With its scoreless tie with Switzerland, France — which won the World Cup in 1998 — has not scored a goal in 360 minutes of this tournament.

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