Donovan sets U.S. record for assists in tie
CARY, N.C. -- Tony Meola got his 100th cap. Now he and the rest of the U.S. hopefuls can only wait for coach Bruce Arena to choose the World Cup roster.
"For me, it was just a great night, and I did it with a great group of guys that really appreciated the first 99 as much as they appreciated tonight," the 37-year-old goalkeeper said. "They let me know about it all week."
Ben Olsen scored the tying goal in the 25th minute off a record-setting assist from Landon Donovan, Meola became the ninth U.S. player to reach 100 international appearances and the United States salvaged a 1-1 tie against Jamaica on Tuesday night.
It was the final exhibition game before Arena settles on the 23 players he will take to Germany this summer. A day earlier, he told the team not to worry about making the final cut. He wanted them simply to have fun.
"It's getting down to the nitty gritty," defender Chris Albright said. "I mean, obviously you enjoy playing the game, but everybody's thinking about making the team. I just tried to give it everything I had."
Before the kickoff, Meola was honored as the ninth U.S. player to reach 100 caps -- soccer's term for international appearances. He was the starting goalkeeper at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, and the No. 3 goalkeeper four years ago.
Meola hadn't played for the national team since May 16, 2002, and his addition to the roster was seen largely as a symbolic gesture by Arena. Barely four minutes into the game, it appeared Meola might be in for a long night when Jamaica took a 1-0 lead.
"We started slow. Give them credit, they came at us," Meola said. "After about 15 or 20 minutes, I thought we picked up the pace and played fairly well. All in all, I thought it was a good performance."
Donovan got his 23rd career assist, moving him ahead of Los Angeles Galaxy teammate Cobi Jones for the most in national team history as the United States avoided losing for the first time in 17 games against Jamaica (9-0-8).
"Oh, that's right, I forgot about that," Donovan said when told of his record. "It was Cobi before, right? I got it in less caps, and I'll tell him this week. That's cool, man."
Albright had a couple of opportunities to put the U.S. team ahead, but goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts came through each time with fine saves. Both came off headers following a free kick by Donovan, with Ricketts narrowly deflecting the ball away from the goal each time.
"He was letting balls go through his hands all night, and he makes the save on a couple of headers," Albright said. "You've just got to take your hat off to him."
Albright certainly needed to play well, as he likely is one of the players hoping for a spot on the World Cup roster. The others who appear questionable are Olsen, Steve Ralston, Eddie Johnson, Pat Noonan, Josh Wolff, Brian Ching and John O'Brien.
Ralston limped off with a groin injury in the second half, and O'Brien, who has been hampered by a similar ailment, made his first appearance for the national team since August.
Arena will announce the U.S. roster May 2, and it will be finalized May 15.
"We were able to use this game as an opportunity to see some players," Arena said. "The part that I felt was valid was that we watched our players have to deal with coming from behind, being down a goal. I thought they responded pretty well, from the 25th minute mark on."
Jamaica took a surprising lead on a great effort by Teafore Bennett. He outran defender Frankie Hejduk to take Jermaine Hue's pass near the box, and Meola was caught out of position.
He couldn't get to the ball quickly enough, and Bennett used his left foot to put it in.
"The first 15 or 20 minutes, we decided we were going to press and try to score," Bennett said. "We worked hard, and it paid off."
The United States came back to tie it on a brilliant move from Donovan. After Noonan was fouled, Donovan wisely took the free kick before the Reggae Boyz were ready.
"I think too often we let teams off the hook," Donovan said. "When you get fouled, there's a lot of times you can put the ball down and play, and teams are kind of walking back. At this level, it can make a difference."
He sent the ball to Olsen, who carried it in alone before taking a shot.
It ricocheted off the left hand of Ricketts and into the net, sending the capacity crowd of more than 8,000 at the SAS Soccer Park in suburban Raleigh into a frenzy. Arena will bring his team back next month to train for the World Cup.