What the U.S. needs to do to get a-header

May 23, 2002, midnight | By Alex Piazza | 18 years, 8 months ago

It was but four years ago that the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team embarrassed itself in the 1998 World Cup in France, scoring only one goal before being knocked out and finishing last of 32 teams. This year, in their seventh World Cup final, the Americans' goal is basically not to stink-a feat they, unlike the '98 team, may accomplish and then some.

As the starting 11 finally takes shape, the U.S. team seems to have a good chance of success as long as they can overcome a few problems. For one, the U.S. team is old. With an average age of almost 30, the U.S. team is easily one of the oldest in the tourney. Head Coach Bruce Arena is investing in more seasoned players who have prior World Cup experience. Not only does this mean that the 2006 team will be composed primarily of World Cup virgins, but such a move gambles on the current team's health, not a bet I'd like to make with a bunch of geezers on the starting lineup.

The U.S. has run into multiple injury problems over the past few months during World Cup qualifying matches, having to withstand the costly absences of forward Brian McBride (sprained ankle) and midfielder John O'Brien (pulled groin). McBride and O'Brien have since recovered, but starting defensive midfielder Chris Armas will be out of World Cup play due to his recently torn knee ligament. The U.S. will have trouble filling the void left by Armas, but luckily for the U.S., recent reports back from training camp in North Carolina show no other major injuries, knock on wood.

Another aspect in need of attention: defense. As shown in their 2-1 last minute loss to Ireland, the back line is the U.S.'s main problem. Even with the lightning-fast Eddie Pope and defensive mastermind Jeff Agoos pairing up in central defense, right back Tony Sanneh will not be enough to solve the equation. Arena must carefully fill the left back and defensive midfielder spots to better orchestrate the defensive lineup. Already, the defense has shown improvement with the team's 2-1 victory over cup-contender Uruguay.

The hardest decision that Arena will have to make is choosing between goalkeepers Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller. Both come to South Korea and Japan with two previous World Cup appearances under their belt and impressive experience playing with European club teams Blackburn and Tottenham, respectively. The choice of either player could drastically alter the chemistry of the team depending on how the other deals with the decision. Either way, competition between the two should make for some good goalkeeping.

The rest of the team is solid. With McBride and Clint Mathis up front while O'Brien, Claudio Reyna and Ernie Stewart support, both the forward and the midfield lines have a mix of experienced players who will come together to create a versatile and potentially dangerous offensive lineup.

With a strong offense, the U.S. should be able to produce enough to overcome their weaker competition in group D, Poland and South Korea.

Poland is essentially a one-man team run by Emmanuel "Oli" Olisadebe, the modest Nigerian-born striker who scored eight goals in the qualifying matches alone. The Polish team may offer a strong defense and Liverpool's Jerzy Dudek as a keeper, but unfortunately for them, Poland- or should I say "Oli"- will have a one-dimensional offense.

Cup co-host South Korea is another team the U.S. should dominate. South Korea has five consecutive World Cup appearances, more than any other Asian team, and has home field advantage, but foreign head coach Guus Hiddink has limited resources to work with, to say the least. The team lacks experience against top-quality teams and has performed poorly against their European competition. South Korea should fare no differently against the U.S.

If the U.S. focuses on overcoming Poland and South Korea, it may not have to beat the group favorite, Portugal, to advance to the next round. With playmaker Rui Costa and phenomenon Luis Figo backing the Portuguese front line, the U.S. will definitely be in for a treat on June 5 when it takes on the "European Brazil."

Alex's Fútbol Forecast:
Assuming the U.S. is able to withstand injuries and pull its defensive line together, the team could advance out of its group to the single elimination Round of 16 where the U.S. would likely move on to Italy, where . . . well, let's not count our chickens.

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Alex Piazza. Alex Piazza is a junior page editor for Silver Chips, one of the better newspapers of the world. While participating in the CAP program, he also plays for the varsity soccer team and plays in an out-of-school band, playing an eclectic mix of styles. Alex … More »

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