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365 Analysis

by Jeff Dieffenbach

With the friendly against Italy behind them, it’s time for the latest U.S. Men’s National Team World Cup report card. With 23 roster spots on the line, exactly 23 players have seen time in the last two matches. Only two of these have been goaltenders, though, and FIFA rules require three, so at least one among the 23 is odd man out.

From the back:

Brad Friedel (goalkeeper) – A: Like Costa Rica against Kasey Keller in the Gold Cup final, the Italians tested Friedel only infrequently. Alessandro Del Piero blasted a 51st minute shot that Friedel parried nicely to his left. Nine minutes later, Del Piero netted the match’s only goal against a blameless Friedel after his defense could not recover from referee Joseph Attard’s dubious officiating (Gianluca Zambrotta’s push on David Regis) and Italy’s opportunistic offense (Zambrotta’s subsequent feed to a streaking Massimo Marazzina, drawing Friedel left before crossing to Del Piero in front of an open goal).

With his performance, including a commanding presence on high balls into the box as well as several strong runs off his line, Friedel countered Keller’s similar Gold Cup effort, leaving coach Bruce Arena without an obvious choice for the starting spot in South Korea. The decision may well come down to the play of whoever starts in last preparation match against The Netherlands on May 19. Regardless, barring injury, both are certain to make the 23 man World Cup roster

Jeff Agoos (defender) – A-: Agoos is a lock to gain a starting spot on the World Cup roster after another solid outing. With a bit more speed, he might have been able to close on Marazzina to thwart his cross on the Italy goal, but the fault was not Agoos’. Overall, his play was characterized by the usual smart positioning and hard tackling that makes him a favorite of Arena.

Greg Berhalter (defender) – A: Berhalter faltered only once, allowing the always dangerous Christian Vieri to get his head to a second half Italian cross, but the effort went wide. Otherwise, he repeatedly shut the physical Vieri and others down with strong headers, solid tackles, and well-placed tactical fouls. Berhalter should join Agoos to start in central defense.

Tony Sanneh (defender) – B-: Sanneh will likely make the World Cup roster, but only in spite of his effort against Italy. His play from the right back position was spotty, leading to several fine Italian chances. He was not able to get forward as effectively as his left side counterpart, David Regis. Sanneh may find himself challenged for a starting position by the likes of Steve Cherundolo or perhaps Pablo Mastroeni.

David Regis (defender) – A-: Regis turned in an outstanding offensive performance from his left back position, offering creative services short and long. Working particularly well with midfielder John O’Brien, Regis continually stretched the Italian defense. While he could perhaps be faulted for crumbling a bit too easily on the Zambrotta push that led to Italy’s goal, his effort puts him in the starting eleven for the U.S. World Cup opener against Portugal on June 5th. Regis was not let down by his lack of speed that has often left him suspect in the eyes of this reviewer and others.

Frankie Hejduk (midfielder) – C: Hejduk had little impact after coming on for Sanneh in the 60th minute. His game is speed and hustle, neither of which he had the opportunity to display in abundance. Perhaps more than any other player, Hejduk is on the bubble for South Korea, but this reviewer has him on the outside looking in.

Chris Armas (midfielder) – B+: Despite taking Man of the Match honors, Armas’ effort was not up to his normal high level. Another certain starter in South Korea, he defended expertly but was too loose with his passing game, hindering on several occasions U.S. advances out of the back.

Claudio Reyna (midfielder) – A-: Reyna doesn’t dazzle at the attacking midfield spot the way legends Marcos Etcheverry and Carlos Valderrama do, but he provides a controlling and sometimes creative influence that is most noticeable when he is absent from the pitch. Sure to start in the World Cup, Reyna was the key point in the U.S. domination of Italy in the first half, but vanished at times in the second before leaving for Eddie Lewis in the 80th minute.

Earnie Stewart (midfielder) – B-: Where was Earnie? If Armas was a questionable Man of the Match (John O’Brien, anyone?), then Stewart was a sure-fire Invisible Man of the Match. He’ll make the traveling list for South Korea, and probably start, but only if he returns his play to its normal fast and inventive level.

John O’Brien (midfielder) – A: O’Brien provided an offensive spark throughout the match, and will carry that spark to a starting spot on the World Cup squad. Reyna’s heir apparent, can play both offensively and defensively with a versatility that belies his relative youth.

Eddie Lewis (midfielder) – C: This can be said of Lewis—he came on for Reyna in the 80th minute. Another bubble player, he likely gets a ticket to South Korea, but only if he makes more of his opportunities on the field.

Joe-Max Moore (forward) – B: A contender for Stewart’s Invisible Man award, Moore (replaced by Jovan Kirovski in the 79th minute) spent the match absorbing Italian fouls with his slight frame. World Cup bound, he, like Donovan and Josh Wolff, requires a larger counterpart up front, most likely to come in the form of Brian McBride.

Landon Donovan (forward) – A-: Donovan had the chance of the match for the U.S. in the 8th minute, capitalizing on a slip by Marco Materazzi to intercept a back pass and go in one-on-one with goalkeeper Francesco Toldo. Despite defensive pressure, Donovan slotted a shot to Toldo’s right, but unfortunately for the forward enjoying his last month as a teenager, off of Toldo’s post and wide. A few minutes later, Donovan made a nice move in the box to get free and launch a blast just high and wide left. Relieved by Josh Wolff in the 65th minute, Donovan again pressed (and in this reviewer’s opinion, made) his case for World Cup inclusion.

Josh Wolff (forward) – C: In twenty five minutes of play, Wolff had almost no impact as he was unable to apply his trademark speed. Wolff is likely on his way to South Korea, but needs to return his play to a higher level to ensure a spot.

Jovan Kirovski (forward) – C: Italy’s four halftime substitutions elevated their play to the point that the controlled the second half. Conversely, the four changes that Arena made had almost no effect. Kirovski, entering in the 79th minute, was no exception. Likely to make the roster for his (relative) size and power (he’s no Mamadou Diallo!), his play is often not up to Arena’s apparent opinion of him.

So, who starts, who sits, and who stays:

Goalkeepers (3): The starting nod will go to Friedel or Keller--simply too close to call at this point—with Tony Meola to fill the third spot.

Defenders (7): Agoos and Berhalter will start in the middle, flanked by Regis on the left side and a question mark on the right. Cherundolo, Carlos Llamosa, Pope, and Sanneh will fill out the projected seven spots.

Midfielders (8): Armas (defensive) and Reyna (attacking) will start in the middle, with O’Brien and Stewart on the wings. Donovan, Cobi Jones, Lewis, and Clint Mathis will provide able support off the bench..

Forwards (5): With a need for size, Brian McBride will start up top, but whom he will be paired with remains an open question. Kirovski, Moore, Ante Razov, and Josh Wolff fill out the complement up front.

Outside looking in: Carlos Bocanegra, Hejduk, Tim Howard, Brian Maisonneuve, Pablo Mastroeni, Ben Olsen, Brian West, Richie Williams, and Zach Thornton. Of the 23 men who’ve played in the last two games, Bocanegra, Hejduk, Williams, and West will likely watch the upcoming World Cup on television. In their place, Pope, Cherundolo, Meola, and Razov will make the trip.

Changes since last report card: Mastroeni out, Regis in, due to Regis’ fine showing against Italy. Sanneh and Razov are also added, as the last report card listed only 21 players for the 23 roster spots.

Let the games continue!

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