Convey: U.S. players dazed and unsure
HAMBURG, Germany (AP) -- Bobby Convey came up with a rather stunning analysis of the United States' horrible opening World Cup loss to the Czech Republic: After four years of practices, scouting and skull sessions, U.S. players didn't know what they were supposed to do.
With their must-win match against Italy just two days away, the Americans were heading for the friendly confines of Ramstein Air Base, hoping to figure it all out.
If they don't, they'll not only be packing for home, they'll have a hard time convincing their loyal army of fans that they ever really belonged.
"I think the reason why we didn't do well is because everyone did not do their role, maybe didn't know their role, maybe didn't know what to do," Convey said Wednesday.
"I don't think it was confusion. It wasn't that people didn't know where to go. We just kind of didn't really jell well together," he said. "It wasn't a negative thing. It's just that we kind of -- we just did OK. At a World Cup, it's not fine to do just OK."
When the team departs Hamburg on Thursday for Kaiserslautern, the Americans will eschew the usual World Cup hotels and stay at a base that's home to about 50,000 U.S. armed forces, civilians and family members. There, Convey hopes to "get my American cereal, get my American food."
"We feel like we're at home, having a bunch of Americans there behind us, rooting us," forward Eddie Johnson said. "We couldn't ask for a better environment to be playing this game."
Arena didn't speak with reporters Wednesday, but on Tuesday he did promise changes.
Landon Donovan, who did little to combine with Brian McBride at forward, could be dropped back to attacking midfield, the position he prefers. Johnson, who entered at halftime and provided some spark, could start along with midfielder John O'Brien, who also came in at the start of the second half.
Donovan was criticized by Arena for a lack of aggressiveness, as was midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who didn't push up much from the right flank, a position he hasn't played very often with the U.S. team. Beasley and defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni could be dropped.
Convey contrasted Monday's performance with 2002, when the Americans advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in their best showing since 1930.
"Everyone knew their role, and I think that's what we kind of got away from a little bit," he said.
In the 2002 tournament, the Americans trailed only twice -- in the 3-1 loss to Poland in their third game, and in the 1-0 quarterfinal loss to Germany. Convey said the Americans didn't prepare on how they would play if they fell behind against the Czechs.
Donovan and Beasley became stars at that tournament, when they were just 20. Convey thought they would respond to Arena's criticism.
"Landon and Beas are big enough people. They have big enough personalities that they'll take it," Convey said. "They'll come out in the next game and be fired up. As a player, you know that you're going to get criticized by your coach. That's just how it is."
Unlike 1998, when criticism was aimed at coach Steve Sampson for his lineup selections in the opening 2-0 loss to Germany, this year's players blamed themselves for not executing.
"If Bruce didn't say the things he said, that means he wouldn't care,' Johnson said. "You know that he expects a lot out of us."
Defender Oguchi Onyewu, one of only four starters praised by Arena, didn't think the Czechs dominated.
"I thought the game was a lot more even than the score would say. Overall, I don't think we played a terrible game," he said.
But Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon was taken aback.
"I was surprised by the United States," he said. "I thought they had improved more."
The United States has never beaten the Azzurri, losing three times in Italy and tying them twice in the United States. The statistical disparity for the Americans entering the match is startling:
-- They're 0-8 in all World Cup games played in Europe.
-- They're 0-9 in Europe, including exhibition games, against the "big five" of Italy, England, Germany, Spain and France, getting outscored 26-4.
But Onyewu insists the Americans aren't thinking about a trip back home yet.
"Italy is going to be a great team, but I think we have a squad that's capable of getting results out of the next two games," he said.
To advance to the second round, the U.S. team likely must beat Italy, then Ghana on June 22. With their minus-3 goal differential right now, a win and a tie might not be enough. The U.S. players need to play confidently and exploit their speed.
"You know they have some of the best defenders in the world, but they are getting older," Convey said. "We need to run at them. We need to try and just be aggressive, take people on, get crosses in and try and score goals, simple as that."
Back in the winter, the U.S. team stayed at Ramstein before its 1-0 exhibition win over Poland, a game played in a snow storm. Players met with the troops and were touched by the experience.
"You feel like you're in America," Convey said.