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Americans beat Poles at their own game
by Ridge Mahoney, March 27th, 2008 6:45AM



There are times when the Beautiful Game is anything but beautiful, when conditions are treacherous and play is choppy and gritty efficiency is preferred to golazos and glitter. Teams such as Poland take pride in the toughness and determination and exploitation of set plays required in such situations, yet it came a distant second to a competent, cohesive U.S. squad Wednesday in Krakow.

The Americans won, 3-0, with three set pieces and staunch defending in every corner of a slippery, nearly frozen field.

The shoulder of Carlos Bocanegra and the head of Oguchi Onyewu put away sweet serves from Landon Donovan for the first two goals, and Eddie Lewis conjured a golazo in the frigid setting by bending a free kick through a haphazard Polish wall and into the net past flailing keeper Artur Boruc.

Not alone in floundering was the Polish keeper, who also lunged awkwardly in failing to reach Bocanegra's goal off Donovan's free kick in the 12th minute that set a tone of U.S. control. Marcin Wasilewski stumbled while chasing Onyewu on a corner kick, giving the massive American a free run at close range to score for the second straight game.

A step slow, a yard off the pace, a half-second late, the Poles seldom gained enough traction to utilize skillful midfielder Jacek Krynowek, or tricky strikers Macej Zurawski and Ebi Smolarek. Central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley usually blunted their thrusts up the middle, Bocanegra and Onywewu worked well in tandem and rarely were exposed, and as a team the USA closed and covered spaces while putting enough pressure on the ball to force errors.

"Obviously we took advantage of set pieces, which is always a positive," said Coach Bob Bradley. "More importantly, we showed the mentality and discipline necessary to win games on the road against good opponents like Poland. "I thought the crowd [sellout of 20,000] tonight was fantastic. It was a special atmosphere, one that our players really appreciated."

If not for opportunities flubbed by Donovan and Eddie Johnson, Poland could have suffered a heavier defeat through its utter ineptitude at defending dead balls and poor covering in the defensive third.

Substitute Jay DeMerit nearly duplicated the feats of Bocanegra and Onyewu but crashed his header from a set play just wide. Brian Ching rose to a Cherundolo cross and his header went right to Boruc.

Fouls on Pearce and Wolff set up the first and third goals, mirroring the Americans' success at playing balls into spaces behind the midfielder and in front of the defenders. They also victimized Poland with quick balls out of the back; Donovan should have scored when he raced upfield and broke in alone but his right footed shot missed the base of the post by a foot.

The Americans' fluidity often confused Poland. Ching and Johnson started up top, with Donovan and Clint Dempsey at outside mid but occasionally tucking in to open up lanes for outside backs Pearce and Cherundolo. Early in the second half, Donovan played behind Pearce for a few minutes to help disrupt Poland's attempt to put pressure on the back line.

A poor clearance by Pearce set up a chance for Dariusz Dudka in the 30th minute but Tim Howard got a hand to his shot and deflected it wide. Eleven minutes into the second half, Radoslaw Matusiak spun inside Onyewu at the top of the box and fired a rising shot that zipped over the bar.

Several regulars for both teams weren't available and Poland coach Leo Beenhakker used the match to test several younger players who didn't do their much for their Euro 2008 aspirations. Had the raucous crowd been given license to celebrate a Polish goal the Americans' task would have been harsher. Yet they came out strong in both halves and only seldom did Poland match their sharpness and intensity.

"In the beginning, I thought we dominated," said Lewis, who replaced Donovan in the 64th minute and took his spot on the left side of midfield. "We had a tight midfield, created some chances and defended well. To score on set pieces is a bonus, but in general I was really pleased with the overall play."

Bradley's assistant, under-23 head coach Peter Nowak is a native of Poland. He had to be proud of this effort by the Americans in an environment that tests sinews as well as psyches.

With back-to-back wins in Europe (1-0 over Euro 2008 co-host Switzerland Oct. 17), the Americans in two months face England in London and Spain in Santander. The forbidding frontier of success in Europe has yet to be conquered but at least there is now an American outpost.

International Friendly
March 26 in Krakow, Poland
Poland 0 USA 3
Bocanegra (Donovan) 12, Onyewu (Donovan) 35, Lewis 73.

USA -- Howard, Cherundolo (Spector, 72), Onyewu (DeMerit, 63), Bocanegra, Pearce (Feilhaber, 85), Donovan (Lewis, 64), Clark, Bradley, Dempsey, Ching (Wolff, 63), Johnson.

Poland -- Boruc, Wasilewski, Bak, Radomski (Golinski, 63), Bronowicki, Piszczek (Lobodzinski, 46), Lewandowski, Dudka, Krzynowek (Smolarek, 46), Zurawski (Gargula, 46), Brozek (Matusiak, 46).

Stats: POL/USA
Shots 9/10
Shots on goal 3/5
Saves 2/3
Corner Kicks 8/6
Fouls 9/8
Offside 2/3

Yellow cards: POL - Wasilewski 37; USA - Wolff 89.
Referee: Anders Hermansen (DEN)

Attendance: 20,000 (sellout)


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