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Mar 2, 2006

U.S. earns hard-fought win

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany -- Even before they kicked a ball at Fritz Walter Stadium on Wednesday, the U.S. already had secured an important off-the-field victory.

During a town hall press conference commemorating 100 days from the start of the World Cup, Kaiserslautern mayor Bernhard Deubig waved a small American flag.

Yes, the national team had won the hearts and minds of the local population, playing a little off-the-field gamesmanship that it hopes will come back and help the team come June 17, when the Americans return here for a vital World Cup confrontation against Italy.

Perhaps it wasn't difficult to win over this city. After all, on Tuesday night, some 5,000 people from the nearby Ramstein Air Force base (there are 50,000 Americans living there), came out for a unique pep rally as the team deployed it's not-so-secret super fan and weapon: comedian Drew Carey.

Moreover, the team then went out and won the game over another World Cup-bound side, Poland, at the very same stadium -- Fritz Walter Stadium -- where they will take on the Italians.

Wednesday night's matchup certainly wasn't pretty and it won't go down in my book as one of the greatest U.S. victories. But the Americans did what they had to do.

On a night where they were far from the top of their game and were outplayed for a good portion of the first half, they won and closed out a game that could have gone either way.

"Good teams win one-nil. We did that and that's what we're most proud of," said goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller, who split the match with Tim Howard.

In the early going, Poland took it to the U.S. and the Americans managed to weather the storm in the opening 30 minutes. Mother Nature made sure they had to weather yet a more natural storm, especially in the second half.

When push came to shove and sometimes slip on the snow-covered field, the U.S. -- using a number of less experienced second-half substitutes -- found a way to hold off a Poland team that probably had more World Cup starters than the Americans.

Let's face it. Come June, outside of the samba soccer performed by Brazil, most World Cup games are not pretty. There certainly will be some beautiful goals, sights and moments to remember and savor. But most players and coaches will tell you that the prettiest sight of all is adding a number three to the points column.

The first prettiest sight for many of the American players, particularly the young ones, will be donning the red, white and blue jersey here in June.

Some players certainly helped their cause on Wednesday night.

Clint Dempsey, who scored his second goal in as many matches, found himself in the right place at the right time in the 48th minute and headed in a miscue by the Polish goalkeeper that bounded off the head of Taylor Twellman. Dempsey calmly headed it home from 3 yards out.

Some players certainly didn't help their chances.

Twellman, Dempsey's New England Revolution teammate, could be one of them. He didn't have any dangerous opportunities, although part of the reason could have been subpar service from the midfield. After Twellman broke his duck -- that's English soccer parlance for ending a long streak -- against the likes of Panama, Japan and the Norway B team, Arena wanted to see what the MLS scoring champion and MVP could do against stiffer competition.

Arena was asked to assess Twellman, who played for the injured Brian McBride, and his front-running partner Eddie Johnson.

"It was a tough game for them," Arena said. "They went against two big center backs. In the first half, we played too many balls in the air."

As for McBride, don't worry too much. Arena said the veteran striker had a groin strain and he wanted to rest him so the former Columbus Crew star could be fit for Fulham's English Premiership match this weekend. Arena obviously wanted to stay on the good side of Fulham manager Chris Coleman. He and his team obviously have gotten on the good side of the Kaiserslautern community. But we're going to have to wait and see if it will pay some important dividends come the middle of June.

The Adu watch -- Part II

As promised, here is another encounter that Arena had with a foreign reporter who asked about the status of Freddy Adu for the World Cup.

On Tuesday at a press conference at the stadium, this is what transpired. A woman from a TV station asked:

"You have a new wunderkind in U.S. Soccer -- Freddy Adu. Will he be in Germany during the World Cup?"

To which Arena replied:

"I haven't asked him. You're asking me if Freddy Adu is going to be on the U.S. roster for the World Cup and play? We haven't determined that at this point. However, I'm going to make this point I've made frequently over the last couple of months. He's 16 years old ... "

The TV reporter interrupted: "He's 17."

Arena: "He's 16."

Arena, referring to an earlier comment he made about the perils of reading newspaper stories, replied: "You must have read one of those reporters. He's 16 years old."

TV reporter: "He was born in February."

It was pointed out to the TV reporter that she had mixed up the dates of Adu's birthday. According to U.S. Soccer media information, Adu was born on 6-2-1989. In Europe, that is read not as June 2, but as Feb. 6.

Arena: "Believe me. I got that right. A lot of other stuff I said may be wrong. But that's right. He's 16 and I think there will not be that many 16 year olds playing in the World Cup. That's just my guess. I could be wrong.

"Let's be patient. He's an outstanding player. He's going to be a very good player. So we're not going to rush the process."

Later, in an answer to another question if Keller is going to be captain of Wednesday night's game, Arena replied, "I believe Keller is going to be our captain."

Asked if Keller might captain the U.S. during the World Cup (the injured Claudio Reyna usually is the captain), Arena responded: "I don't know if he's going to make the team. There's a few 16-year-olds I have to look at before I finalize our roster."

There's more to come. Next stop: Dortmund on March 22 for a match against host Germany, which was pummeled 4-1 by Italy on Wednesday night.

U.S. player ratings

Kasey Keller, 7 -- Captain for the match. Another solid effort in the net, although his clearance kick off the head of Grzegorz Rasiak was reminiscent of his Carlos Hermosillo blunder in 1998 World Cup qualifying.

Eddie Lewis, 5.5 -- His cross set up the lone goal. But he struggled a bit on the left flank defensively.

Gregg Berhalter, 4 -- Appeared to have communication problems with Oguchi Onyewu, which almost was disastrous.

Oguchi Onyewu, 5.5 -- Good performance and held his own, although there were those communications problems.

Steve Cherundolo, 6 -- Had a quality free kick that barely missed.

DaMarcus Beasley, 5 -- Never found his full rhythm.

Kerry Zavagnin, 4 -- Did not pick up his man enough. Subbed by Mastroeni in the 55th minute.

Landon Donovan, 5 -- Had problems shaking Arkaskiusz Radomski for most of the match.

Clint Dempsey, 5.5 -- Right place at right time for goal which couldn't hurt his chances of making the team.

Eddie Johnson, 4.5 -- Still on injury comeback trial, but wasn't dangerous enough.

Taylor Twellman, 4.5 -- Helped set up goal, but wasn't dangerous enough.

Substitutes

Tim Howard, 6.5 -- For someone who hasn't seen much playing time with his club, an encouraging effort.

Carlos Bocanegra, 5.5 -- Solid effort.

Bobby Convey, 6 -- Strong performance off the bench.

Pablo Mastroeni, 5.5 -- Steady job replacing the shaky Zavagnin.

Chris Klein -- NR.

Josh Wolff -- NR.

Michael Lewis, writes for the New York Daily News and is editor of BigAppleSoccer.com, can be reached at SoccerWriter516@aol.com