U.S. team shrugs off heat, Trinidad, 2-1

Keller, Johnson, Lewis lead way in Cup qualifier


February 10, 2005|By Chris Cowles | Chris Cowles,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad - Fifteen years ago, it was a must-win situation for the United States national team. Yesterday's match against Trinidad and Tobago didn't have that kind of pressure, but it still proved a perfect start to the final round of World Cup qualifying for the Americans.

Facing a determined Trinidad team supported by a raucous crowd in wilting playing conditions, a composed U.S. squad rode a sparkling performance by goalkeeper Kasey Keller and opportunistic goals by Eddie Johnson and Eddie Lewis to emerge a 2-1 victor in the CONCACAF region game.

"Considering all of the problems we've had over the last month," said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, "for these guys to come together and get a result is just terrific."

Nearly two weeks ago, Arena was forced to assemble a squad of replacement players as a two-month labor dispute between the U.S. Soccer Federation and the national team led the players to strike.

A good faith agreement between the sides before a Feb. 1 deadline saw the return of the senior team in time to prepare for this opening qualifier.

In 1989, the Americans earned a spectacular, 1-0 victory over Trinidad and were rewarded with a trip to their first World Cup in 40 years. While there were not the same implications yesterday, the U.S. team put on a strong show in front of 16,000 fans draped in Trinidad and Tobago's national colors of red, black and white at Queen's Park Oval.

Making only his fourth appearance for the national team, Johnson opened the scoring in the 30th minute when he ran uncontested into the penalty area and headed in a cross from Steve Cherundolo from 12 yards, allowing goalkeeper Shaka Hislop no chance.

"I put myself in the right place at the right time," said Johnson. "Brian [McBride] made his run to the far post, and I ran to the near post and met the ball at the right time."

Keller, who transferred last month to Borussia Moenchengladbach in Germany from Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League, demonstrated why he remains the U.S. team's No. 1 goalie, being called on several times to deny Trinidad.

In the sixth minute, Keller went high to his right to thwart a Dwight Yorke header. Yorke, playing in his first qualifier since 2001, was foiled by Keller again in the 34th minute when he deflected a shot by the Birmingham City (England) striker.

In the 53rd minute, Leslie Fitzpatrick found himself with the ball at the top of the penalty area, unmarked, only to have his shot deflected by Keller over the bar with an amazing effort.

A minute later, Lewis took a short pass from Landon Donovan and sent a 23-yard shot into the upper right corner.

"This was a great result for us," said Keller. "After everything that has been going on with the team - for the guys to come out like this, it was huge."

Angus Eve's goal came in the 83rd minute after a number of Trinidadian attacks, with the defender tapping in a loose ball from five yards.

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