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Jan 30, 2006

U.S. makes short work of Norway

A 5-0 victory in an international soccer friendly is bound to raise an eyebrow or two, regardless of the countries involved. Let's face it, such results are about as rare as seeing Bruce Arena smile at a press conference. But after watching the U.S. national team blow out Norway in Carson, Calif., by that very score line, just what, if any, conclusions can one draw from the result?

The margin of victory was a U.S. record against a European opponent, which means it must lead to bigger and better things, correct? After all, it was an emphatic win over a side whose World Cup hopes were dashed only at the final hurdle; a narrow playoff defeat to the Czech Republic, the same Czech team that the Yanks will run up against in their World Cup opener on June 12. And if the U.S. can do this to Norway, then it bodes well for its first round date against the Czechs. Right?

Hardly. The U.S. victory on Sunday has about as much correlation to its opener as last year's MLS regular season had to the playoffs, which is to say, none at all. Norway fielded what was essentially an U-23 side, and the gap in quality was there for all to see. The U.S. attack was basically allowed to do as it pleased, and the Norwegian marking made Chivas USA look like Chelsea.

Defensively, I half-expected to see some lawn chairs perched in front of U.S. goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, so little was the U.S. defense troubled by Norway's attack. And the only drama surrounding the match centered on whether Norwegian substitute Magne Hoseth could succeed in getting Landon Donovan sent off. (He didn't.)

So just what did the Yanks accomplish at the Home Depot Center on Sunday? Well, the same things they've accomplished recently in their other friendlies. Namely, a few players impressed enough to move up a few slots on Arena's depth chart. Others did less to help themselves. That's it.

The biggest winner on Sunday was Taylor Twellman. The New England forward tallied a hat-trick and, at least for now, debunked the notion that he doesn't have what it takes to score at the international level. Another was Clint Dempsey, who gave an indication that his international future lies out wide, rather than in the center of midfield. And Todd Dunivant showed enough in his debut at left back that perhaps Arena does have options besides Eddie Lewis.

In the meantime, put a giant asterisk on this result. At least until the next friendly in two weeks' time.

Onto the ratings:

Kevin Hartman - 6

Hartman had to be sharp early when he turned aside Frode Kippe's 13th minute shot. The Galaxy keeper also served as a punching bag on a few set pieces, but other than that, he barely broke a sweat. You'd like to think that getting a clean sheet in your first international start would mean your chances of making the final roster have actually improved, but barring injury, no MLS keeper stands a chance of making it to Germany. That said, Hartman certainly helped whatever slim chance he has.

Todd Dunivant - 6

The L.A. defender had some nervy touches early on, but showed plenty of willingness to get into the attack, which will no doubt please Arena. And Dunivant's pinpoint serve that led to Twellman's second goal shows that the Yanks have another set piece weapon with him in the lineup.

Jimmy Conrad - 6

Conrad wasn't troubled much, so it's difficult to gauge a whole lot from his performance. Still, the Wizards' defender was in the right place at the right time, and with Dunivant bombing forward at every opportunity, Conrad provided cover when called upon.

Eddie Pope - 7

Pope delivered a solid performance, and he took his goal well. Games like this will begin to make people forget about 2005, but the only way to make that amnesia permanent is to reach the level of consistency that made him a mainstay in years' past. Let's see how he does against Japan or Guatemala.

Frankie Hejduk - 6

With Dempsey often tucking into the middle, Hejduk had plenty of space in which to operate, and he exploited it well. The Crew defender only had to turn on the afterburners a few times in the back, but otherwise had a quiet day on defense.

Pat Noonan - 5

It was a consistently inconsistent performance from Noonan. He was barely heard from in the first half, and struggled to make much of an impact. Some mazy runs down the wing saw him much more involved in the second half, but poor crossing usually undid all of his hard work. That is, until his pinpoint delivery in the 76th minute allowed Twellman to complete his hat-trick. Still, it was a performance that left one wanting more.

Kerry Zavagnin - 6

He wasn't flashy, but did a good job of providing an outlet out of the back, especially in the first half, when he saw plenty of the ball. Zavagnin also stepped up well to blunt some of the rare Norwegian counterattacks.

Landon Donovan - 6

The U.S. star was active all day, although his delivery on corner kicks was inconsistent at best. He kept the ball moving and was also able to launch some of his trademark runs from midfield. Donovan unselfishly laid the ball on for Klein to score the final goal. Donovan did pick up a silly yellow card for his set-to with Hoseth, which is exactly the kind of caution he'll need to avoid this summer.

Clint Dempsey - 7

Sunday's match was the best international performance by Dempsey in quite a while, giving credence to the idea that his best position at the international level might be out wide. He was constantly involved in the attack, even when he moved inside, and he gave the Norwegian left back Erland Hanstveit a torrid time in the first half. Dempsey was unlucky not to score when his 27th minute shot hit the crossbar.

Taylor Twellman - 8

The Revolution forward was everywhere in the first half, whether he was scoring goals or winning the ball in midfield. He faded a bit in the second when he drew more attention from the Norwegian defense, but still managed to complete his hat-trick. Although Twellman will no doubt see tighter marking in the games to come, give him credit for finishing off the chances he had.

Josh Wolff - 4

Wolff made some dangerous runs in the first half, but proved to be off-target with his passing, as well as his finishing. The second half was little better, although he was unlucky not to get an assist on Dempsey's disallowed effort. On a day when it was raining goals, Wolff's performance was an afterthought. But with Twellman heating up, the Wizards' forward will need to sharpen his game if he expects to go to Germany.

Subs:

Nate Jaqua - 6

Saw plenty of the ball and had some good touches, although he should have done better with his 87th minute chance that was saved and eventually slotted home by Klein.

Santino Quaranta - 5

Quaranta had some good touches, but overall had a quiet 20 minutes.

Chris Klein - 6

Klein was very involved in his brief stint, and took his goal well after being set up by Donovan.

Ben Olsen - 6

The D.C. United midfielder seemed intent on making up for lost time after getting subbed last weekend and provided plenty of energy to the midfield during his brief time on the field.

Ugo Ihemelu - NR

Galaxy center back gets his first cap.

Brian Ching - NR

Did he even touch the ball?

Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPNsoccernet. He can be reached at eljefe1@yahoo.com