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 Posted by ESPN Staff
May 29, 2006

Arena yet to finalize starting forwards and midfielders

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. -- The goalkeeper has been set for more than a year and the defense fell into place months ago. Now U.S. coach Bruce Arena must figure out the final lineup of his attackers and midfielders for the Americans' World Cup opener against the Czech Republic.

Will DaMarcus Beasley shift across to the right midfield flank, opening a spot for Bobby Convey or John O'Brien on the left? Or will Beasley stay on the left, creating an opening for Clint Dempsey on the right?

Will Josh Wolff or Eddie Johnson be paired with Brian McBride up front, or will Arena push up Landon Donovan to forward, which would enable him to start Beasley, O'Brien and either Convey or Dempsey in the midfield?

Arena wouldn't give many hints following Sunday night's 1-0 victory over Latvia that completed a stretch of three exhibition games in a six-day span. American players are off until Thursday, when they travel to Germany. The final round of World Cup training starts Friday, and there is a closed scrimmage against Angola ahead of the June 12 opener against the Czech Republic.

"We know we're fit, and when we're fit and ready and playing to our ability, we can beat anybody," goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. "We just have to step on the field and execute."

Keller, the last remaining veteran of the 1990 World Cup wipeout still on the U.S. roster, earned the starting goalkeeper job with stellar play in qualifying. Barring injuries, Eddie Lewis will be the left back, Oguchi Onyewu and Eddie Pope will be in central defense, and Steve Cherundolo will be at right back.

Captain Claudio Reyna, also heading to his fourth World Cup, will play a defensive midfield role and control the tempo of the game. He strained his right hamstring early in the 1-0 loss to Morocco on May 23 but thinks he'll be ready for the Czechs.

"It's tight a little bit, but it's still where the trainers always said I would be at this stage," Reyna said Sunday night. "Everything is on schedule, all things going well. I hope to be training once we get to Germany."

Beasley hasn't been sharp, according to Arena, but the coach thinks his match fitness will be fine by the opener. Arena said after Sunday's game that O'Brien, coming off lengthy injuries, won't be ready to play 90 minutes by June 12, a signal that he might not start against the Czechs.

Convey has been outstanding in recent exhibition games, which may be why Arena wanted to look at Beasley on the right side Sunday.

Donovan played attacking midfield in the three games, but he could be moved up alongside McBride. He hasn't scored in 15 straight national team games since July 8 against Canada, assuming more of a playmaking role at times, and his offensive contributions will be a key in determining whether the Americans advance from their first-round group, which also includes Italy and Ghana.

Dempsey, just 23, has a brashness about him that could prove beneficial. But he also can get caught out of position, and it might be a gamble to start him against the Czechs.

Johnson, at 22 the youngest player on the roster, has been trying to regain form after missing the second half of 2005 because of a toe injury. He had four of the 16 American shots against Latvia and said afterward that he took to heart what Arena told the team before Friday's 2-0 win over Venezuela.

"He's still looking for guys to put on the field June 12," Johnson recalled. "As a player it goes through your mind: Here's my chance to make a difference. Here's my chance to set myself up where I can be walking out on June 12, on the field."

But before trying to figure that all out, Arena and the players get a little R&R. Arena said that before the trip to Germany, he might not leave his couch at home. He didn't plan to speak with his coaching staff.

"I've just been with them for three weeks," he said. "I can't stand them, and they can't stand me."