ANALYSIS: Germans were faster, quicker and smarter

BY RIDGE MAHONEY, senior editor The errors were many and the blame can be spread liberally for the Rout in Rostock that transpired Wednesday night. But the bigger, stronger, meaner Germans -- as they were portrayed in several news accounts of the match -- were also faster, quicker and smarter as they pummeled the Americans, 4-2. They should all pitch in and buy a weekend getaway for Kasey Keller and his family and a night on the town for Clint Mathis. Keller's fearless dives into feet and reaction saves kept the score down. Mathis hit the net twice, once after hitting the post. Stranded by a dearth of midfield tackling and support, the U.S. defenders chased through balls in the first half and lost battles for head balls in the second. None of the defenders distinguished themselves, although both Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos salvaged dangerous situations with saving tackles and a clearance off the line (Agoos). David Regis triggered the first U.S. goal with a nice ball up the line that Jovan Kirovski handed off to Mathis. But a lack of midfield bite allowed those short first-time balls played over the top to find Oliver Neuville and Torsten Frings on the run. A flaccid flank permitted Bernd Schneider to launch dangerous crosses toward Oliver Bierhoff. Chris Armas, overwhelmed and outmanned, needed help in the middle and seldom got it. Eddie Lewis and Earnie Stewart didn't track back and pinch in, and often Landon Donovan gave up the chase once the ball crossed the midfield line. Claudio Reyna not only would have aided the U.S. cause by holding the ball on the rare occasions his team gained possession but he also has the savvy and experience to sit deep and clog lanes and intercept balls. Ditto John O'Brien. In a 4-4-2 there are times the central midfielders must work as a defensive tandem to combat numbers and pressure. And wide players have to scrape up loose balls and win double-teams. It didn't happen in Rostock. Most of the MLS players looked bedraggled after long flights across many time zones and the relentless German running had them puffing heavily in the first half. Agoos struggled through a particularly horrid night and Armas had little of the spunk and fire he'd displayed the past few months. Of the domestic group, obviously the standout was Mathis, whose possible transfer stock keeps rising. His audacity, his swagger and his finishing will play well in Europe. Donovan seldom saw the ball but critics will contend he didn't do nearly enough to get it when his teammates ran into trouble. Kirovski was, by his standards, scintillating, which means an average performance with some nice touches and little pugnacity. Outmuscled near the post when Neuville headed in and guilty of giveaways meant a long night for Steve Cherundolo, who gave way to Tony Sanneh late in the match and may do so at the World Cup as well. As had been the case in last year's qualifying losses to Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica, Regis' defensive positioning and tackling liabilities haunted the U.S. He may have been a bit off-form, having sat out the last two games for French club Metz, but a few skillful touches can't compensate for a defender's poor defending. Keller's only flaw may have been his positioning on Ziege's superb free kick. He simply couldn't get across his line in time to stop it but would have done so if he'd been in the middle of his goal, instead of nearer to the far post. And then maybe Ziege sticks it in the other side. That's the kind of night(mare) it was. Joe-Max Moore sent Mathis through for his second goal following an excellent early pass from Armas. Then Moore raced away and flubbed his shot wide with two teammates waiting in the middle. So it went. The U.S. was due for a poor game after a fine run of sharp play. Yet a team desperately needing to prove itself against European competition chose a most inopportune time for a bad day at the office.
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