UNACCEPTABLE: Terrible U.S. Loses World Cup Opener, 3-0

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: June 13, 2006

MIAMI — For weeks the players of the US Mens National Team spoke confidently about their preparation.

They spoke confidently about their chances to advance out of one of the most difficult groups in the World Cup.

They spoke about wanting respect internationally and justifying their #5 world ranking.

They spoke about wanting to do well to help advance the game in a country that has historically been indifferent to this brand of football.

Yet when it came time to bring it under the glare of the international spotlight, the US National Team managed to embarrass themselves and their fan base both in Germany and back home watching on TV with a truly pathetic performance against the Czech Republic.

The Czechs shredded the US with a comprehensive 3-0 win to open play in Group E of the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

The US came into this match knowing they needed to get a good start before looking forward to its remaining game. Yet they came out in a conservative 4-5-1 formation with Brian McBride the lone striker.

Beasley: Nowhere to be found (AP)

DaMarcus Beasley normally a left sided midfielder was put out on the right to make way for Bobby Convey while Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope anchored the middle of the defense.

Meanwhile the the Czechs took the field already missing Milan Baros and looking to put the bed the whispers of age and inconsistency that had swirled over their heads.

They still had 2003 European Player of the Year Pavel Nedved and Thomas Rosicky to operate the midfield and the giant 6’7″ Jan Koller as a target to get on the end of crosses.

It only took five minutes to do it. After a useless Kasey Keller punt downfield, Karel Poborsky chipped a pass to a streaking Zdenek Grygera down the left side.

Left back Eddie Lewis was nowhere to be found and Grygera had all the time in the world to cross the ball into Koller. The big man powered right over Eddie Pope and drilled his header past Keller. Just like that, 1-0.

The US now knowing how Portugal felt in 2002 looked to regroup but simply were not up to the task. Their touches were uneven and the passes were either imprecise or too ambitious.

There were too many hopeful long balls and when the US were able to get the ball down the wings in dangerous positions they reverted to pumping balls into the box hoping that Brian McBride, overwhelmed physically and numerically, would be able to head the ball to someone.

It never happenend.

For their part the Czech Republic was active and lively. Their movement away from the ball was instrumental in opening tons of space in the middle of the field for Pavel Nedved and Thomas Rosicky to take advantage. Meanwhile Koller demonstrated how a true target man operates and his ability to post up Onyewu and lay the ball off to on-coming attackers was text book stuff.

The play of the Czechs was in stark contrast to the slow, methodical and uninspired play of the US’ midfield. Only once was Landon Donovan able to get the ball and run at the defense, inducing a foul and a yellow card in 16th minute.

The Czechs almost doubled their lead in the 24th minute as Thomas Galasek collected a clearance and chipped over the top for Nedved on the left side of the penalty area.

Nedved fought off Steve Cherundolo, collected the ball and crossed for an unrushing Grygera. Eddie Lewis pressued Grygera just enough for him to head over the bar. A bullet dodged.

It wasn’t until the 28th US finally earned itself a chance to score through Claudio Reyna. Collecting a loose ball from a turnover, the US captain sent the ball to the left for Convey. Convey found Donovon in the attacking third who laid the ball off to a streaking, unmarked Reyna.

From about 19 yards out, he unleashed a low right footed drive that beat GK Peter Cech but not the left post. It would be the only real chance of the half for the US.

As the half wore on, the US defense began to settle in and effectively mark the Czechs, limiting their chances on goal but the US’ offense lacked any teeth. There was no attacking from Beasley or Convey on the wings and Donovan had absolutely no influence on the match. While the US had more possession, they didn’t do much with it.

So it was only slightly against the run of play that the Czechs struck again in the 36th minute. Nedved collected a pass on the left and drilled in a cross towards Koller. Onyewu headed clear but only as far as Rosicky. No one closed him down after he collected the ball about 25 yards from the goal.

He took one touch and unleashed a wicked ball that swerved left to right and settled in the upper right corner past Kasey Keller. It was a shot of the highest quality and the US had been dealt a severe blow. 2-0.

The rest of the half played out in uneventful fashion until just before injury time when Koller, fighting Onyewu for a ball collapsed in a heap, grabbing his leg. Koller would be substituted and the injury has been deemed serious but that’s about the only thing that went wrong for the Czechs. 2-0 at halftime.

Needing more offense, coach Bruce Arena brought on Eddie Johnson and 2002 World Cup hero John O’Brien for Pablo Mastroeni and Steve Cherundolo, changing the line up to a 3-5-2 formation. Yet it mattered little in the early going. The US failed to string any passes together to form a coherent attack and played negatively though the midfield.

DaMarcus Beasley was espcially guilty of playing the ball backwards when he should have been running at defenders and Bobby Convey just kept pumping unimaginative balls into the box for the ineffective Brian McBride.

In fact it was the Czechs who almost scored 6 minutes into the half with Tomas Ujfalusi almost flicking home a Poborsky free kick going right to left.

On 61 minutes Keller saved from Vratislav Lokvenc who had received a pass from Poborky at the top of the area. Poborsky then vollyed wide a minute later from about 12 yards after a left to right cross from Nedved. An unmarked Rosicky almost buried the US again with a drive that dipped and hit the cross bar in the 68th minute.

It wasn’t until the 70th minute (and after the restless crowd began whistling the US’ poor play) that the Americans started showing some life. Eddie Johnson, after taking time to settle in the match, began finding holes in the Czechs’ defense with his movement off the ball and received the ball from Reyna about 22 yards from goal.

His left footed blast was low but just off target, smashing the sign boards to the left rear of the goal. On 75 minutes, Convery finally got an effective cross in with Johnson streaking in towards the goal but Cech dove to take the ball just off EJ’s feet.

So after a couple of spurned chances it was time for the Czechs to put it out of reach. In the 76th minute Nedved found a streaking and once again unmarked Rosicky in the middle of the field. He took off with Onyweu and Eddie Lewis in hot pursuit having only Keller to beat. He flicked the ball past the oncoming goal keeper and the rout was complete.

3-0. No one in the midfield tracked back to mark him and Onyewu never saw him coming. The lack of athleticism was readily apparent as Rosicky raced to the goal with no one to catch him and the finish was perfect.

The US half heartedly tried to press for a goal. Eddie Johnson almost bent a shot past Cech but it was just over the cross bar. After two minutes of stoppage time the match was mercifully called.

The Czechs were understandably pleased with their first match. They played extremely well on offense and snuffed out what few chances the US created.

The US, however need to be ashamed of themselves. They lacked creativity, imagination, drive, awareness and demonstrated the passion of an unsalted potato chip.

Memories of the 1998 World Cup have been rediscovered in many US fans’ minds and there is nothing positive about that. The coaching staff got it wrong, the players got very wrong and the result was just.

This match was simply unacceptable and the players need to take a long look at themselves and decide how much they really want to belong among the best.

The US simply need to win its remaining matches if they have any chance of advancing, starting Saturday (2:30pm EDT, ABC) against Italy, 2-0 winners over Ghana.