Sunday, September 04, 2005

ATH: U.S. on the way to World Cup!

Cup-bound U.S. savors some breathing room
Victory over Mexico gives Arena's team chance to rest, build depth
The Associated Press, Updated: 4:35 p.m. ET Sept. 4, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio - This is a luxury the United States wants to savor now that a World Cup berth is secure — time to rest and fine-tune its roster.

“The goal now is to make our team better for the World Cup,” coach Bruce Arena said.

The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 Saturday to assure themselves a fifth straight spot in the World Cup with three qualifying games to spare.

The team can now rest its stars and fill out its roster starting with Wednesday’s game in Guatemala. A light workout is planned for Monday in Columbus before the trip to Central America.

The victory allowed the U.S. squad to avenge the lone blemish on its record in the final round of qualifying. The Americans are ranked sixth in the world, one spot behind Mexico. The United States has not lost at home to Mexico in seven games since 1999 nor yielded any goals in that span.

Before a crowd of 24,685, Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley scored five minutes apart and goalkeeper Kasey Keller notched his 50th international win. Keller hasn’t surrendered a goal in World Cup qualifying since a 2-1 loss in Mexico City in April.

This time, Keller made an especially clutch save, diving to his left to snuff a low drive by Mexico captain Rafael Marquez.

“To be able to shut them up at the beginning of the second half by getting two goals and just kind of seeing the game out comfortably was fantastic,” Keller said.

Keller and most other national team members who play with European clubs most likely won’t suit up for the Guatemala game or the final two qualifiers. Instead, Arena said he would give minutes to MLS players and others who haven’t seen as much international time as he pares the roster from what is considered the deepest talent pool the U.S. program has had.

“I think it gives the coach a real chance to look at some other players in games that matter,” defender Gregg Berhalter said.

One question to be settled on the U.S. roster is that of backup goalie.

“We’re bringing three goalkeepers to the World Cup, and I want to be one of them,” said Marcus Hahnemann, who plays for Reading in the English Premier League and is one of four players besides Keller to have played in goal for the U.S. this year.

Two years ago, Manchester United’s Tim Howard could have given Keller a run for the starting job. But Howard has fallen out of favor with the English club and hasn’t made any recent appearances for the U.S.

Arena was pleased with the play of his four defenders against Mexico, but the back line remains to be sorted out, especially the outside spots. Berhalter, rising star Oguchi Onyewu and veteran Eddie Pope — when healthy — are mainstays in the middle.

Frankie Hejduk, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have experience. Chad Marshall and Chris Albright have seen considerable action of late. Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Lewis, Jimmy Conrad and Bobby Convey can be deployed at midfield and defense.

Forwards Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan and midfielder Clint Dempsey, teammates with the New England Revolution, could have trouble finding room on the team that goes to Germany.

U.S. men seal 5th straight World Cup berth
Ralston, Beasley score in 2-0 win over rival Mexico
The Associated Press, Updated: 9:47 p.m. ET Sept. 3, 2005

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Qualifying for the World Cup is sweet. Doing it against your archrival is nirvana.

The United States is headed to next year’s soccer championship in Germany after beating Mexico 2-0 Saturday night thanks to goals by Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley five minutes apart in the second half.

The quick strikes, after a sloppy and chippy first half, lifted the Americans into the 32-team tournament with three games to spare. It was the first time since 1934 that the Americans were the first team into the World Cup for North and Central America and the Caribbean.

It’s also the fifth straight World Cup appearance for the Americans, who are ranked sixth in the world, one spot behind Mexico — for now.

The win avenged a 2-1 loss in Mexico City in March and gave American goalkeeper Kasey Keller his 50th career victory for the national team. The United States has not lost to Mexico on American soil since 1999, and has not yielded any goals in that span, either.

On both U.S. scores, Mexico seemed confused who should be where on set plays. Eddie Lewis’ floating free kick was headed by Oguchi Onyewu, whose 6-foot-4 height came in handy as he soared over the smallish, befuddled defense. His shot hit the goalpost and bounded into the air directly to the unguarded Ralston for his second career international goal.

That woke up the flag-waving, red-white-and-blue clad American fans, who began pounding the bleachers with their feet. The noise seemed to further unnerve the visitors, and they were out of position on a short U.S. corner kick.

The ball came to Claudio Reyna and the unmarked U.S. captain fed an equally wide-open Beasley. His twisting left-footed kick soared over goalie Oswaldo Sanchez, who had no chance.

From there, it was a matter of getting another shutout for Keller, who now has blanked five straight opponents in qualifying and has a scoreless streak of 507 minutes in all. The Americans are 6-1 in the final qualifying round and play at Guatemala on Wednesday, when most of the regulars will be excused.

Mexico (5-1-1) still needs another point in its final three games to make Germany 2006.

At the final whistle, most of the 24,685 fans chanted “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as several players ran off the bench wrapped in U.S. flags. All of the Americans were handed flags, which they then draped on their shoulders or waved to the crowd as fireworks lit the sky.

The strong U.S. showing in the second half helped ease the ugliness of the first 45 minutes, in which neither team truly threatened until the final minute. Keller needed to make a diving hand save on Ramon Morales’ free kick in injury time.

Otherwise, the visitors seemed satisfied to keep the scoreboard empty — and to keep fouling midfielder Beasley, who was victimized four times in the half, five times overall.

In turn, U.S. defender Frankie Hejduk committed four fouls in the opening 45 minutes.

Reyna drew a first-half yellow card, meaning he will be suspended for Wednesday night’s game at Guatemala, which is insignificant — with the Americans already qualified, Reyna will head back to Manchester City in England. U.S. defender Gregg Berhalter also drew a yellow and is in the same situation.

Mexico’s Duilio Davino’s yellow card means he will be out for Wednesday’s home game against with Panama.

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