U.S. men's soccer team coach Bruce Arena fielded several substitutes in a show of confidence of his squad's depth tonight, and the gamble resulted in a surprisingly easy 2-0 victory over Germany and a berth in the semifinals of the Confederations Cup tournament.
The victory over Germany, which never had been eliminated in the first round of a major FIFA-sanctioned tournament, set up a showdown with Mexico on Sunday in Mexico City and set off a celebration for a U.S. team that seems to have overcome the disappointment of the 1998 World Cup.
Coming off a 1-0 loss to Brazil on Wednesday night, the United States rested starting midfielder John Harkes, forward Cobi Jones and goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Forward Brian McBride, one of the few bright spots when the U.S. team finished last at the 1998 World Cup, played only the final 13 minutes.
The strategy was sound on paper: By resting the players who had run hard for 90 minutes against Brazil, Arena would be able to field a fresh team Sunday.
"You don't single out anyone tonight," Arena said. "Before we came here I felt we needed to use all 20 men on the roster if we were to arrive in [Mexico City] on Sunday with a chance to win. I have a lot of faith in our players. This result is terrific in that it shows we're making progress."
The United States showed surprising strength against Germany, traditionally one of the world's best teams. For the Germans, three-time World Cup champions, it was yet another loss in a shockingly bad year. Last summer, they hammered the Americans, 2-0, in their World Cup opener in Paris, but in February they lost, 3-0, to the United States in an exhibition in Jacksonville, Fla.
Germany created better chances early tonight before 53,000 at Jalisco Stadium, but the United States struck first.
Midfielder Frankie Hejduk beat Bernd Schneider down the flank in the 23rd minute and flicked the ball to waiting forward Paul Bravo. His backheel pass inside the box found D.C. United midfielder Ben Olsen, who shot cleanly past goalkeeper Jens Lehmann to give the United States a 1-0 lead.
Forward Joe-Max Moore made it 2-0 early in the second half with a superb 22-yard free kick. After a foul on Bravo by Thomas Linke, Moore curved the ball into the upper near corner, sending him and his teammates into a celebration at midfield.
"I feel as though a huge weight has been lifted," said Moore, who missed a penalty kick in the second half Wednesday against Brazil. "Bruce fills this team with confidence and we feed off him."
The player of the match was Bravo, a member of the Colorado Rapids who set up one goal and took a beating from Christian Worns. Replaced by McBride in the 73rd minute, Bravo left the field to a rousing ovation from his bench.
Nine of the U.S. team's 11 starters play in Major League Soccer.
"This is a dream come true," Bravo said. "I thought it would be difficult to make the squad, but when I saw Bruce's mind-set and he talked about my experience at [a high] altitude, it made sense. He dropped guys like Roy Lassiter and Brian Maisonneuve so it was my job to step up.
"Tonight I had to hold the ball and do the running. If the team did poorly, Bruce would have been at a crossroads, and I felt that even if it was my first start, I had to play like it was my last game."
Tonight's big loser was a man who wasn't even on the field -- Germany Coach Erich Ribbeck, who almost certainly will be fired after seeing his team shut out twice by the United States in six months.
"I'm hurt that we weren't able to prepare ourselves better," Ribbeck said. "The so-called little teams can beat us if they're better prepared."
The Americans played down the significance of the victory, seeing bigger wins in the future.
"This wasn't a historic win, it was a good win," D.C. United defender Jeff Agoos said. "The historic win, hopefully, will come in 2002, when we reach the second round of the World Cup."
Notes: Brazil defeated last-place New Zealand, 2-0, in the final game of the tournament's first round here tonight. The Brazilians (3-0), who were all but assured of finishing first in the Guadalajara group, will stay in this city and face Saudi Arabia (1-1-1) in a semifinal Sunday.
Midfielder Marcos Paulo scored during injury time of the first half, and 19-year-old forward Ronaldinho added the second goal in the 88th minute for his third score of the tournament. New Zealand finished 0-3.
The third-place game is scheduled for Tuesday in Guadalajara and the championship match is set for Wednesday at Mexico City's Azteca Stadium.
United States 1 1 2 Germany 0 0 0
SCORING -- Olsen (Bravo, Hejduk), 23rd minute; Moore, 50th.
LINEUPS -- United States: Friedel; Agoos, Brown, Balboa; Hejduk, Williams, Olsen (Stewart 65th), McKeon, Lewis; Moore (Kirovski 82nd), Bravo (McBride 77th); Germany: Lehmann; Worns, Heinrich (Dogan 41st), Linke; Marschall, Matthaeus, Preetz, Neuville, Wosz; Heldt (Rink 60th), Gerber (Maul 76th).