Sunday, June 13, 2004
U.S. wears down game Grenada
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- On a somewhat frustrating afternoon when it seemed as though nothing would ever get past the sliding and diving bodies of defensive-minded Grenada through the first 45 minutes, DaMarcus Beasley and Greg Vanney bailed out the U.S. National Team with three quality strikes for a 3-0 victory at Crew Stadium on Sunday.More importantly, it gave Bruce Arena's side a bit of breathing room in its CONCACAF first stage home-and-home series, where the team with the most aggregate goals will advance to the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying that starts on August 18.The last thing the U.S. wanted to do was fly down to the West Indies island needing a win or a tie in front of a fired up crowd next Sunday in St. George's. A three-goal advantage isn't insurmountable in the least bit, but it's enough to securely pin the backs of the Spice Boyz against the wall and, barring a miracle, vanquish all their collective World Cup dreams.Here are five observations from Sunday's match:1. Beasley played well beyond his ageThe 22-year-old midfielder was the youngest player on the field, yet the most composed, as his clinical finishing showed. On Beasley's first goal, he calmly nodded home a long cross from Claudio Reyna about six yards out from the back post."I just put it in the danger zone," said Reyna, "and Beasley got to it."Reaching dangerous zones weren't the problem throughout the match, as the Yanks piled up 36 shots and 18 corner kicks in an offensive blitzkrieg that had Grenada's defenders literally diving -- like goalkeepers -- within their own 18-yard box to block shots and deflect would-be goals out of harm's way.No one could solve that. That is until Beasley struck first in that 45th minute, and then again in the 71st minute on an end-to-end run that saw the Chicago Fire standout sprint over 50 yards to join a U.S. counterattack."I started running a little bit after he got the ball," said Beasley referring to Landon Donovan, who gathered the ball on the right side of the field just into Grenada's territory. "No one was there, so I just kept running."Running? No. More like streaking. And at a pace that no other American soccer player can move. That sort of explosive speed enabled him to join the 2 v. 2 that saw Donovan and Kirovski attacking two defenders. Once Kirovski started slanting his run to the near post, Donovan astutely slowed up his dribble to allow the space to clear for his longtime friend."I didn't say anything," said Beasley. "I just knew he saw me."Donovan's pass was weighted perfectly enough that Beasley was able to hit it on the run and slot the ball to his right on a shot that goalkeeper Kellon Baptiste didn't have a chance to stop."The second goal is part of the reason we play Landon and DaMarcus where we play them -- for the counter," said Arena, who uses the young duo as dual attacking midfielders who have the freedom to play both outside and centrally. "With their speed coming out on the break, they're outstanding. It was a great goal."2. Why was Grenada allowed to change its lineup?Arena and his staff were visibly angered before the match had even begun, when learning that Grenada substituted striker Everett Watts for Nigel Bishop after the lineups had already been turned in."You submit lineups an hour before the game," said Arena after the match. "And if you make changes in the lineup, that player is generally ineligible."However, that was not the ruling that was made. Grenada was allowed to use Bishop, who came on in the second half. It was something that Arena felt was wrong, and rightly so, considering that the change was made after Grenada's coaching staff was able to view who Arena was putting on the field."Why do you submit lineups?" Arena asked. "So we can look at their lineup and then make four or five changes? That's the whole point. Hopefully, it's a good lesson for CONCACAF and they'll get it sorted out."The matter was still being discussed two minutes into the match before Bishop was declared eligible to play.3. Jason Roberts can playThe striker from Wigan Athletic of England's First Division was the player the Grenadians looked to play through every time they won possession, whether it meant hitting 40-yard long balls out of the back or ambitious through balls looking to spring him into space despite having defenders all around him. Though he failed to score for his country, the 26-year-old striker was dangerous, and got behind the U.S. defense on two occasions, including his run at goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the 16th minute that resulted in a wild shot over the net."He was a handful," said Reyna, who knew of Roberts from watching him play in England. "I told Eddie that he's very strong and very powerful. And he was. He was dangerous."Though only standing at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Roberts used his arms to hold off Eddie Pope at times in a battle that went on throughout the day."He's just a beast," said Pope. "If a forward is being allowed to use his hands, then so is a defender, so it was physical. But the whole point for us was to keep the ball out of the back of the net, which we did. So we did well."Said Grenada manager Ali Debellotte: "I think you saw an excellent player today ... He's a great influence on our players. I hope we can get another one like him (in the future)."4. The finishing could've been betterToo many balls hit right at the keeper. Too many balls hit wide without any pressure on the shot. And way too many serves to open players sprayed a little too high, behind the play, or out wide. For the most part, that's why the U.S. didn't score until 10 seconds into first-half stoppage time."It was tough early," said Beasley. "We just kept trying to keep buzzing in the box."The U.S. attackers were, especially on corner kicks -- seven in the first 10 minutes alone -- when Carlos Bocanegra and Pope got into the mix, but the serves were often off the mark."It's down to me not getting in good crosses," admitted Reyna, who took several of the team's 17 corners on the afternoon. "In the first half, I couldn't judge the wind. Balls were going high and low."On two separate occasions, the U.S. had flurries which resulted in multiple shots from inside the box. In the sixth minute, Baptiste stood on his head, saving a hard shot from Bocanegra from the left side, as well as his follow-up header and a resulting shot from Reyna on the right side of the box."It was my greatest performance ever," said Baptiste, who made 11 saves.Yet, two of the biggest saves on the day came courtesy of Ricky Charles, who had 18 goals and 16 assists last fall for the University of South Carolina-Spartanburg. The 28-year-old midfielder stood alone on his own goal line after McBride beat Baptiste to a cross from Greg Vanney in the 42nd minute. The Fulham striker's hard left-footed shot was somehow saved on a diving stab at a time when the game was still scoreless."That was one I really wanted," said McBride, making his return to Crew Stadium where he played for eight seasons before moving to Fulham over the winter. "You try not to second-guess yourself, but I was trying to get my feet right and play it right over the top of his thigh. But he got his knee up."Reyna ran on to the rebound and hit it solidly on-frame, but the U.S. once again was victimized by Charles and his goal line heroics.Those were just a few of the other golden opportunities the U.S. didn't convert."We had opportunities," said Arena, "to score four, five, six or seven goals today."Yet, three was probably enough.Which leads us to ...5. That huge third goal by VanneySince the U.S.-Grenada series is virtually a 180-minute match spread out over two games in two different countries, Vanney's goal in the 93rd minute really stuck a dagger into the Grenadians chances of pulling off a monumental upset to reach the semifinal round of qualifying. The difference between two and three goals is enormous, as it now forces Grenada to play much differently than they did on Sunday."We'll definitely be pushing more players forward," said Debellotte.Gone will be the 5-3-2 or, at times, 5-4-1 formation that was used in this first match. They'll have to risk losing by a large margin -- in both the match and in the series -- to try and jumpstart an offense that only managed six shots and forced Keller to make one save."Getting that third goal will make them come out and open up rather than stay in the shell and counter with Roberts," said Reyna."They're fighting for pride," said Beasley. "They're gonna come out and play hard. But the longer it stays 0-0, the more advantage it'll be for us."While Arena mentioned the lack of finishing, he was content with the result and is confident going into next weekend's match."At the end of the day," said Arena, "we're certainly pleased with a three-goal margin."And being one step further along in World Cup qualifying.Marc Connolly covers American soccer for ESPN Soccernet.com. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.