ANALYSIS: Americans outplay Wales

By Ridge Mahoney in San Jose, Calif.

The Welsh didn't bring Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy, John Hartson and a few other of their stars, yet neither did they bring the desire and sharpness that has enabled them to win all four of their European Championship 2004 qualifying matches to date.

Wales, which hadn't lost in its previous 10 games, succumbed to a quicker, hungrier U.S. team, 2-0, by attacking weakly and defending poorly in the May 26 friendly.

Whatever balls were won in the air by Welsh striker Gareth Taylor were swept up by U.S. midfielder Richard Mulrooney and his defensive mates, Spurs veteran midfielder Simon Davies was forced to play right back when Wales went down to 10 men, and keeper Darren Ward let in a nightmare goal.

The Americans scored on a Landon Donovan penalty kick and an Eddie Lewis shot that skipped embarassingly under Ward's left arm, and another goal or two wouldn't have been undeserved.

The USA tore through Wales for the final half an hour, and Ward atoned somewhat by stopping Donovan twice and also thwarting Bobby Convey when he came in alone.

Right back Matthew Jones, who plays midfield for his club Leicester City, bore much of the blame. He gave away a penalty kick when he was ruled to have clubbed Jovan Kirovski in the back of the neck with a forearm and committed a handball early in the second half that resulted in a second caution.

Jones and central defenders Andy Melville and Adrian Williams were bombarded for much of the first half by U.S. crosses, for which Lewis and Kirovski battled and scrapped as Donovan darted about.

The Americans generated little by their aerial assaults although they did keep the opposition in its own half due to a Welsh inability to play through midfield.

Kirovski checked back to keep the ball at his feet with his back to goal and in the first half neatly nicked the ball away from three defenders in midfield before releasing it to a teammate.

A cross launched from the right wing by Mulrooney yielded the penalty. Kirovski, facing the ball, backed up to play it, then bumped into Jones and suddenly pitched forward onto the grass. Mexican referee Benito Tellez immediately whistled the penalty and cautioned Jones.

Donovan sent starting keeper Paul Jones the wrong way for his ninth international goal and a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute.

Lewis, whose runs up the flank yanked the Welsh defense out of shape, scored 11 minutes after Jones had been sent off for his second cautionable, and rather stupid, offense.

Davies couldn't secure the right flank, and Greg Vanney sent a short ball for Lewis to approach the goal and shoot low from a sharp angle past Ward, who had come on at halftime.

Lewis then tracked back into his own penalty area to intercept a driven ball intended for Oster and headed it back to keeper Nick Rimando.

Wales tried to play balls on the ground at times but more often than not went to the air. Left back Vanney stepped up to intercept several passes; C.J. Brown and Ryan Suarez were tough on head balls; and Jeff Agoos kept the back line organized.

The tight confines (67 yards wide) of the Spartan Stadium field seemed to stifle the Welsh, but Lewis -- who played four MLS seasons in MLS before heading to England -- and Earnie Stewart were far more effective on the flanks.

Mark Pembridge and Jason Koumas, both English Premier League veterans, shared the delivery duties on set plays to little effect.

Jon Oster had the best chance for Wales after he stole the ball from Agoos and drove toward goal from the right side. He went near post but Rimando parried the hard, rising shot for a corner.

Neither team was close to full strength. Of the Welsh team that beat Italy, 2-1, last October in its most important Euro 2004 qualifying win to date, four played against the U.S.: Paul Jones, Melville, Pembridge and Davies. Of the U.S. players, only Agoos, Donovan, Lewis and Earnie Stewart played in the 2002 World Cup.

Comparing rosters, then, is a push. The USA looked sharper than it did against Mexico 2 1/2 weeks ago, and a labored effort from a Welsh team shorn of its gamebreakers wasn't nearly enough to get a result.

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