Different World for U.S.
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany, June 12 -- The U.S. national soccer team arrived at this World Cup poised to prove that its quarterfinal appearance four years ago was no illusion, that the game back home had made enormous strides and that American soccer should be discussed in the same breath as the sport's elite programs.
They believed they had prepared themselves perfectly for Monday's first-round opener against the Czech Republic and that, despite a humbler pedigree, they would find a way to start this year's tournament in grand style, just like in 2002 when they shocked Portugal.
Instead, everything went terribly wrong and, as a consequence, the Americans could be mathematically eliminated by this weekend.
They yielded an early goal to 6-foot-7 forward Jan Koller, they allowed a sensational goal by brilliant playmaker Tomas Rosicky before the half and, with the Group E match essentially decided, they watched Rosicky coolly finish a breakaway to cap the Czech Republic's 3-0 victory before 52,000 at Veltins Arena.
It was a final score that accurately reflected what transpired on this muggy day in the Ruhr Valley. Through 11 games in four days, the United States is the only team to have lost by three goals.
"It was embarrassing," forward Landon Donovan said, "and that shouldn't happen."
The U.S. team faces a daunting task to reach the second round: tying or beating group favorite Italy (1-0) on Saturday in Kaiserslautern and then defeating Ghana (0-1) on June 22 in Nuremberg. And a tie against Italy likely means the U.S. will need help on the last day of group play to advance. U.S. Coach Bruce Arena was critical of several players, saying Donovan "showed no aggressiveness" and "we got nothing out of [midfielder DaMarcus] Beasley." He thought goalkeeper Kasey Keller's aimless kick spurred the Czech Republic's first goal and, in general, "not enough players took the initiative."
While Donovan agreed with Arena's assessment of him, Beasley responded to the coach's review by saying, "I was back there defending the whole time, I don't know what [Arena] wants me to do."
Later, when discussing the U.S. team's move to a more aggressive 3-5-2 formation in the second half and Arena's comments, Beasley added: "I was always defending the whole time. That's how the game went. Next time I will leave the guy and play as a striker instead of a midfielder and then we'll see what happens."
Team captain Claudio Reyna, one of the few U.S. players to perform well, thought many of his teammates got lost in the moment.
"Going into a World Cup, we said it's something the guys will never see again, regardless of the preparation and what they've played in the past and their experiences," Reyna said. "It's completely different, the magnitude of this game, and you could see that guys were a little bit hesitant.
"At this level, you get punished, you get killed, and we did."