U.S. men need win against Jamaica today

Team seeks rebound after 3 losses

Arena says `complacency' is fixed

Soccer

October 07, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

On June 20, the U.S. men confidently walked off the field at Foxboro Stadium in Massachusetts, a 2-0 winner over Trinidad and Tobago that astoundingly put them a stone's throw from advancing to their fourth straight World Cup with the 10-match final qualifying round only halfway complete.

Since permitting just one goal during a 4-0-1 start -- comfortably putting them atop the six-team region from North and Central America and the Caribbean with 13 points -- the Americans have floundered with an injury-riddled attack overshadowed only by a suddenly dysfunctional back line.

A 1-0 loss in Mexico in July was followed by a charitable five-day stretch in September during which the team yielded five goals in losses to Honduras and Costa Rica. At 2 p.m. today (chs. 2, 7), fourth-place United States (4-3-1) returns to Foxboro to play Jamaica (2-4-2) with those same 13 points accompanied by more pressing needs.

With the top three teams advancing, the primary route to next year's World Cup in Japan and South Korea for the Americans would be win today and at last-place Trinidad on Nov. 11.

"In all honesty, I would say that we were a bit complacent over the last two or three games. Many players believed what they read in the papers, that we were basically in after having 13 points in five games," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena. "I think we stepped back a little bit. I think we lost our focus and may have lost sight of our roles on the team, and the coach did a lousy job. This week, I think we're ready to go and determined to play a good, strong 90 minutes of soccer."

The Americans welcome the return to Foxboro, where they are 6-0-3 all-time in qualifiers, and they also welcome the return of play-making captain Claudio Reyna, who missed all three losses, first to offset two yellow cards and then because of an injured groin.

Last week, the standout midfielder returned to his Scottish club team, the Glasgow Rangers, and banged up a knee, but by the middle of the week said he was certain to be ready. The three U.S. losses coming with the unavailability of Reyna is no coincidence, but he's quick to remind that he's only one of 11 players on the field.

"Hopefully, I can help in the midfield, but I think we have a lot of good players who can lead us and play well. There are many guys who can step up, like Earnie [Stewart], Cobi [Jones] and Joe-Max [Moore]," he said. "Soccer is not about one individual who is going to win a game single-handedly. It's a team effort. I don't feel any pressure or responsibility to do anything."

What Reyna does bring the minute he steps on the field is an imagination in the middle that's been largely absent the past three games, taking pressure off teammates to create and enabling them to return to familiar roles.

"His qualities make other players better, and players have much more confidence when he's on the field," Arena said. "But as he's indicated, he's not the sole reason why we're successful. But we think he's a key part of our team, and he gets everyone going."

Scoring is only half of the Americans' concern against a Jamaican team led by Onandi Lowe (team-leading six goals in qualifiers) that Arena believes will be aggressive in moving forward. Breakdowns that have come about in the Americans' once-tidy defense must be cemented in front of likely starting goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

"The issues of defense were not solely the responsibility of our back four. Our midfield wasn't in good spots to help," Arena said. "We've lost our team shape over the last couple games, we've made some bad mistakes, and we've also been called for two penalty kicks that resulted in two goals. We need to correct some of those mistakes, and we have discussed it with our players."

The U.S. team, again missing injured forwards Brian McBride, Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff, gets back midfielder John O'Brien (knee) and forward Ante Razov (groin), who scored 74 seconds in when the Americans beat Trinidad in June.

Arena is hoping for some similar magic today in the final international match at Foxboro Stadium, which will be replaced by CMGI Field next year. In its last game on home soil, a 3-2 loss to Honduras at RFK Stadium in Washington on Sept. 1, the U.S. team found as many, if not more, Honduran supporters than American fans.

"When you're playing at home and the crowd is not in your favor or just partially, that can hurt your team," Arena said. "We expect it on the road, but we don't expect it at home. So if we have a pro-American crowd and they're behind our team, I think it's going to help us."

Costa Rica (6-1-1, 19 points) tops the region; Honduras (4-2-2, 14) is second, with Mexico (4-3-1, 13) holding the third and final spot -- based on goal differential with the United States. Also today, Trinidad will visit Honduras and Mexico travels to Costa Rica. On Nov. 11, Honduras will be at Mexico when the Americans visit Trinidad.

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