Thursday, March 23, 2006

ATH: US Smacked

A Tough Night for the Americans
By Ronald Blum, AP Sports Writer

DORTMUND, Germany (March 22, 2006) AP -- Gregg Berhalter had a welt under an eye. Josh Wolff walked off the field with a concussion and a cut that needed five stitches. Cory Gibbs had a bruise on his knee.

Germany didn't just beat the United States, the Germans beat up on the Americans, a 4-1 rout Wednesday night that relieved some of the pressure on the World Cup hosts and did little to inspire confidence in the U.S. team.

After a scoreless first half that left the home fans booing and whistling, the Germans went ahead when halftime sub Bastian Schweinsteiger scored 21 seconds into the second half. Germany then overwhelmed the Americans with goals by Oliver Neuville (73rd minute), Miroslav Klose (75th minute) and Michael Ballack (79th minute).

"What this game proves is who can play at this level and who can't," U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller said.

Steve Cherundolo scored his first international goal in the 85th on a 75-yard drive that bounced into the net. The Americans were missing Landon Donovan, Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Lewis because of injuries and club commitments, and U.S. coach Bruce Arena referred to the group on the field as his "second team."

"I don't think too many players played themselves on our World Cup roster tonight, to be honest with you," he said.

Germany's national team and coach Juergen Klinsmann were under intense pressure from fans, bosses and politicians following a 4-1 loss at Italy on March 1.

"Klinsi, will he be gone if he loses today?" read a large headline in Bild, with a picture on an airplane, a reference to Klinsmann's decision to live in California and commute to Germany.

Many in the crowd of 64,500 at Signal Iduna Park were unhappy when Lukas Podolski and Ballack misfired on open shots early.

"It was an important victory because now we'll be able to prepare in peace for the World Cup," Klinsmann said. "Some of the criticism in the past few weeks was justified but some comments were below the belt."

Now it is the Americans' fans who have some doubt, especially given a tough World Cup group that includes the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana. The United States, an all-time high fifth in the world rankings, had previously played World Cup warmups against far weaker teams, tying Canada 0-0 and beating Norway (5-0), Japan (3-2) Guatemala (4-0) and Poland (1-0).

Their remaining exhibitions are all against teams that failed to qualify for the 32-nation field: Jamaica, Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia. When playing in Europe against the big five soccer powers of Germany, England, Italy, France and Spain, the United States is 0-9 and has been outscored 26-4. The Americans allowed four goals for the first time since a 4-2 loss at Germany that preceded the 2002 World Cup.

"Maybe some guys were looking at that ranking a little bit too seriously," a visibly angry Keller said. "It's a reality check for a few guys and that's a good thing, this time, that it doesn't happen June 12."

For him, the lesson was clear.

"We're not going to walk into the World Cup thinking, `Oh, you know, we beat Norway 5-0 and we beat Japan in some games, that now we're great and we're untouchable,'" he said.

Arena originally planned to play three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards but switched his formation when Germany started three forwards.

Gregg Berhalter had a tough night, Cory Gibbs was shifted to left back -- a position he normally doesn't play -- and Cherundolo committed the foul that led to the first goal.

Jimmy Conrad played the second-half kickoff back to Kerry Zavagnin, who returned the ball to Conrad, who went it wide to Cherundolo, who sent it out of play. Germany's throw-in went to Ballack, whose goal beat the United States 1-0 in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

He was fouled by Cherundolo, and Schweinsteiger's swerving 25-yard free kick bounced past several players and into net on a hop, just past the fingertips of a diving Keller. The goal initially was credited to Klose.

"Just a huge mental mistake," Arena said. "Giving the game away in the opening kickoff of the second half to me is very foolish."

Eddie Johnson had a great chance to tie it in the 66th, when he headed Cherundolo's free kick toward the net, but Kahn dived, stuck out an arm and batted the ball away.

Neuville then got away from Berhalter and beat Keller, his teammate on the German club Borussia Moenchengladbach, after Klose headed the ball down to him. Two minutes later, Berhalter misplayed the ball to Klose, who sent the ball to Neuville. He backheeled the ball to Klose, who came in alone of Keller, got the goalkeeper to go for a fake and slotted the ball in. With no U.S. player within 5 yards, Ballack scored with a header in the 79th off a cross from Klose.

"It was very tough at the start," Ballack said. "The first goal broke the tension and we played well after that."

Down 4-0, the Americans got a weird goal when Keller rolled the ball to Cherundolo, who sent the ball up the middle of the field toward Johnson. The ball bounced into net as Johnson and Kahn collided.

Cherundolo, who plays in Germany for Hannover, didn't see many positives.

"I hope we learned that at this level, you really cannot lose your concentration," he said. "I think Juergen will maybe sleep better at night now."

Notes: Arena said the Major League Soccer players, whose seasons haven't started, "are very unfit for games at this level." ... Wolff came out in the 17th minute, 14 minutes after he ran into the elbow of Christoph Metzelder while chasing a ball from Johnson. ... Reyna will be sidelined for up to a month because of a shoulder injury sustained last weekend with Manchester City.

From the US National Team Players Association

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