Filed by Gentry Estes
The United States finished its three-game “Road to Germany” this weekend by beating Venezuela 2-0 and Latvia 1-0 in the final exhibition before the World Cup. In doing so, the Americans showed obvious improvement from the uninspired 1-0 loss to Morocco in Nashville and earned some momentum to take with them for Friday’s flight across the Atlantic.
So what did we learn from the three games? Not much, but a few possible themes are already developing.
1. What’s up with DeMarcus Beasley?
Coach Bruce Arena dismissed rumors of a hamstring injury, but something is up with the American midfielder. Beasley wasn’t giving a full effort during the past week, either because of fatigue or laziness, and was even called out publicly by Arena before the Latvia match. With young sparkplug Bobby Convey pushing for time on the wing, Beasley may have to fight to keep a starting spot. The U.S. will have a difficult time making noise in this thing without Beasley, one of the genuine difference-makers in 2002.
2. Josh Wolff isn’t a world-class striker.
OK, so I like seeing an Atlanta boy on the national team as much as any Southerner. But I’m continually surprised by the amount of chances Wolff has been given at a level where he’s routinely outclassed. Wolff started in Nashville, and his usefulness near goal was a primary reason the U.S. failed to score. In fact, Wolff hasn’t scored in eight appearances this year for the national team. To me, it would be impossible to justify starting him at forward ahead of an athlete like Eddie Johnson or tactician like Brian McBride.
3. The defense has improved.
Other than a late giveaway and counter-attack from Morocco, an unheralded U.S. defense didn’t allow a goal in the three games despite shuffled lineups and goalkeepers. Even in the Morocco loss, solid No. 1 keeper Kasey Keller wasn’t forced into a save until more than 80 minutes into the game. It’s a good sign for supposedly the weakest part of the American squad.
4. The new Jeff Agoos is ... Steve Cherundolo.
The cost of Cherundolo’s late blunder against Morocco was a goal and a loss. Like Agoos in 2002, Cherundolo appears to be that one U.S. defender who’s too good to bench but risky enough to make Americans hold their breath each time he approaches the ball. Veteran Eddie Pope played well in the tune-up matches but is another possibility for this label, since he struggled mightily at times in 2005.
5. Dempsey deserves a shot.
Clint Dempsey started only once in the three matches, but he scored a goal when he did. As a reserve, he tallied the lone U.S. goal in last summer's high-profile friendly loss to England. A young midfielder with speed, moves and loads of potential, Dempsey is an impact player who’s cocky enough to take chances and not be flustered by good opponents and the pressure of a World Cup. The U.S. needs his gumption on the field.
E-mail Gentry Estes at email@example.com