USA opens year on a strong note

Ridge Mahoney on the USA's win over Sweden
The U.S. men's national team won its first game of 2008, a 2-0 friendly win over Sweden that featured goals by debutant Eddie Robinson and veteran Landon Donovan. Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney reports on the U.S. victory from Carson, Calif.

A record-setting goal (according to U.S. Soccer) for Landon Donovan, a first international goal by Eddie Robinson in his U.S. debut, and a great game in goal from Brad Guzan enabled the U.S. to beat Sweden, 2-0, at Home Depot Center Saturday night.

Both coaches - Bob Bradley of the U.S. and Lars Lagerbeck of Sweden - viewed this friendly as a training exercise. Eleven subs were used, and scrappy play sometimes predominated, yet the USA stitched together crisp passing sequences several times and the Swedes pierced the Americans' back line often enough to force Guzan to be at his best.

Robinson blasted a loose ball into the roof of the net after a Pat Noonan header from Brad Davis' corner kick rebounded to him, and Donovan tucked away his U.S. record 35th international goal early in the second half after substitute Jozy Altidore earned a penalty kick.

Donovan stated after the match being named as captain meant more to him than passing Eric Wynalda on the all-time scoring list.

(Donovan's record still needs to be confirmed by FIFA, which has yet to classify last January's 3-1 U.S. victory over Denmark, in which Donovan scored, as a full international game. At the time, the Danish federation called the team it brought on tour its Ligalandsholdet -- league national team -- the same name it is calling the Danish team currently on tour in the Middle East.)

Donovan repeatedly unhinged the Swedish defense by launching runs and dribbles from his right midfield position, and linking up well with the frontrunners and central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Maurice Edu.

On the left side, Davis swerved in numerous crosses that forces heroic clearances by scrambling Swedish defenders.

Yet the Americans' sagged a bit after dominating the opening half hour, and when determined Swedish attacks produced chances, Guzan slammed the door. Twice in the first half he threw his body in front of shots by Pontus Wernbloom, once of which resulted from a mixup between right back Drew Moor and central defender Jimmy Conrad.

"We were in the half where our fans were pretty loud and any times there was any action the crowd level got a little bit higher," said Conrad of a noisy section of Sam's Army supporters in the crowd of 14,878. "When I turned around I actually thought it was a Swedish guy and I didn't hear Drew, so with that combination he hit a nice volley into my stomach and it went right to their guy.

"I actually thought the guy was off [side], I was surprised they let the play go on, but it happened pretty quick. Brad made a great save. He's been proven to do that over the last year, year and a half. We needed to come up with a couple big saves and he did today."

Aside from Donovan and Guzan, Ricardo Clark played a most impressive game. Alongside Maurice Edu, earning just his third cap, Clark played a busy, tidy game in midfield, stepping into tackles to win balls and evading pressure to retain possession. He hit a poor shot from distance early in the match, but for much of the game kept the back line and attack knitted together.

"It was good to get him back," said Bradley of Clark, who missed the last portion of the regular season and MLS playoffs to serve a suspension incurred for kicking Carlos Ruiz in a league match. He hadn't played for the USA since a 1-0 loss to Colombia in the Copa America last July.

"Rico does a lot of good things," Bradley said. "His competitiveness in the center of the field is a huge plus for us. We always try to get him to understand how to work with others. He had a good game, and there are also things that he still needs to improve."

Yet he, and his teammates, scrambled to track playmaker Anders Svensson, who repeatedly slipped dangerous through balls or from wide positions found teammates in the goalmouth. Sweden actually outshot the Americans, 10-7, but Guzan dealt with all four shots put on target and competently covered a few of those through balls.

At the start of the second half, Bradley brought on Altidore, who quickly won a penalty on a nice combination between Donovan and Moore.

Mattias Bjaersmyr piled into Altidore as he wound up to shoot and Donovan sent keeper Rami Shaaban the wrong way to break Wynalda's record.

"I wouldn't classify it as important but it's something that I'm very proud of," said Donovan, who was more proud of being named captain for the match.

"More so than scoring goals, being part of the team for a long time it's something I'm proud of. For me, the most important part of any game is helping the team get a victory."

Bradley at halftime also changed up with back line by inserting Michael Parkhurst and debutant Clarence Goodson, who leaves next week to play for Start in the Norwegian league, in place of Conrad and Robinson.

With Moor and left back Ramiro Corrales, playing his first national team game since 2004, the hosts blunted Sweden's efforts to climb back into the match, and a rare breakthrough forced a good save from Guzan on a wickedly bouncing header.

Bradley also gave a first cap to striker Jeremiah White, a Wake Forest product who plays for AGF Aarhus in Denmark.

"Tonight we played against a team who is always a good match for us," said Bradley, whose record in charge is 13-5-1. "The game had tempo. It was physically challenging. I think to come out of it with a good result was important."

Game Summary
Jan. 19 in Carson, Calif.
USA 2 Sweden 0.
Goals: Robinson (Noonan) 15, Donovan (pen.) 48.

USA - Guzan, Moor, Robinson (Parkhurst, 46) Conrad (Goodson, 46), Corrales, Donovan (White, 81), Clark, Edu, Davis (Kljestan, 72), Twellman (Altidore, 46), Noonan (Rolfe, 63)

Sweden -- Shaaban, Lustig, Bjärsmyr, Larsson, R"nningberg (Safari, 61), Andersson, Alexandersson (Elm, 46), Svensson, Johansson (16- Holmen, 61), Prica (Oremo, 61), Wernbloom (Dahl, 78).

Shots: USA 7, Sweden 10
Shots on Goal: USA 5, Sweden 4
Saves: USA 4, Sweden 3
Corner Kicks: USA 4, Sweden 9
Fouls: USA 17, Sweden 23
Offside: USA 3, Sweden 3

Yellow cards: USA -- Moor 46, Clark 64, Kljestan 90+. Sweden -Prica 27, Bjärsmyr 47, Johansson 60, Larsson 80, Safari 90.

Referee: Mauricio Navarro (CAN)



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