WORLD CUP SOCCER
Lineup changes imminent for U.S.
Arena thinks the team will bounce back and play well vs. Italy on Saturday
HAMBURG, Germany » Changes are ahead for the U.S. soccer team.
The Americans played like tentative tourists in their opening 3-0 loss to the Czech Republic, and need a win against Italy on Saturday to revive their chances of reaching the World Cup's second round.
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After reviewing video of the clunker several times, coach Bruce Arena alternated criticism of players with humor yesterday as the Americans tried to shake off the defeat and start preparations for the Azzurri, a three-time World Cup champion.
Admitting that it was "very rare" to single out players publicly for poor play, Arena repeated his negative assessment of Landon Donovan.
"Landon's lack of aggressiveness in the attack, his running off the ball, his desire to make plays and be part of the game was not on last night," Arena said. "He knows that, and I'm sure he'll pick it up on Saturday."
He also challenged DaMarcus Beasley to accept his critical comments.
"If he's any kind of a player and a man, he understands that," Arena said. "If he doesn't, then he's not going to be able to help us in Games 2 or 3, either."
Defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope, and midfielders Claudio Reyna and Bobby Convey were the only starters praised by Arena.
"After that, there's not a whole lot more that I think was real good on our part," he said. "That's my honest assessment."
Forward Eddie Johnson and midfielder John O'Brien, who entered at halftime against the Czechs, could find their way into the starting lineup against the Italians, with Beasley and perhaps midfielder Pablo Mastroeni winding up on the bench, and Donovan dropped back from forward to midfield.
"I think it's obvious we need to make a couple of changes," Arena said. "What they are, we don't know at this point."
When pressed by a foreign reporter, Arena mocked the question.
"We're not going to go with the 3-0 loss game plan," he said. "We threw that page away after the game and we're going to try to come up with another one."
Forward Brian McBride never had the ball in a scoring position against the Czechs, the result of "not having a good partnership on the night with Landon," according to Arena. Outside backs Eddie Lewis and Steve Cherundolo were faulted for their reluctance to be aggressive.
Convey looks to be a lock for Saturday's lineup, with Arena saying "he'd be a tough guy to take off the field."
The United States has never beaten the Azzurri, going 0-3 against them in Italy and tying them at New Jersey's Giants Stadium in 1984 and Chicago's Soldier Field in 1992. Italy opened with a 2-0 win over Ghana, and Arena made light of the investigation into match-fixing in Serie A games.
"It doesn't look like it's disturbing them a whole lot, from what I can tell," he said. "They're used to scandals. They're playing right through this scandal. They'll be fine. I think we need a scandal."
Arena said yesterday and today would be days to "regroup, lick our wounds a little bit." Playing Italy will be different than facing the Czechs.
"One of the easiest teams in the world to scout, one of the hardest to play against," he said. "You know what they got, you know how it's coming. It doesn't change from game to game, from year to year. ... The Italians are coming at you mano e mano."
Arena predicted Italy would play conservatively and be happy with a tie.
With their bad goal differential, the Americans probably need two wins to advance. Unlike four years ago, a 1-1-1 record doesn't appear likely to be good enough, so a victory Saturday is paramount.
"It can be done," Arena said. "We have a group of players that are resilient, and I think we will respond well and play a good game on Saturday."