U.S. soccer tabs World Cup team

Old or savvy?

Posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2002

NEW YORK -- The United States will head to the World Cup with one of the oldest teams in the tournament.

Ten of the 23 players selected Monday by coach Bruce Arena will be 30 or older, up from five on the American team that finished last among the 32 nations at the 1998 tournament.

In 1990, when the Americans qualified for the first time in 40 years, the oldest player was 27 and just four topped 25.

''We need to understand that we are still a developing country in terms of soccer,'' Arena said. ''Our players start at an older age. I think at the next World Cup, we'll have a younger team.

''Hopefully, the previous experience will be a factor. That's a reason they are a part of this. We think they'll help us get through a difficult stretch.''

There were no surprises on Arena's roster, with Colorado Rapids defender Pablo Mastroeni, who has just eight international appearances, earning the final spot. He is the only player who didn't appear in any qualifiers.

''I felt Pablo deserved to be on our roster because of the really outstanding showing he's had in 2002,'' Arena said. ''It validates the process.''

The Americans, heading to their fourth straight World Cup, announced the roster nearly one month before it had to be submitted to FIFA, soccer's governing body. At the World Cup, the Americans have first-round games against Portugal (June 5), South Korea (June 10) and Poland (June 14).

''Obviously you go into these events with the idea to get through the first round,'' said forward Josh Wolff, picked for his first World Cup. ''The U.S. doesn't have a staggering record of getting out of the first round, so that's our goal first and foremost.''

The United States lost all three first-round games at France 98 and finished last among 32 teams.

Midfielders Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, who both will be 20 when the Americans open against Portugal on June 5, are the youngest players.

''I'm still in shock that I'm on the roster,'' Beasley said. ''I don't think it's hit me yet that I'm on it and I'm going to the World Cup. I'm excited, and it's something I've always dreamed of. I didn't think it would happen so soon, but it has.''

Defender Jeff Agoos (34), who burned his gear when he was among the last cuts in 1994, is the oldest player. The average age is 28.7 years, up from 28.1 four years ago, 26.1 in 1994 and 23.5 in 1990, when the U.S. team was the youngest in the tournament.

Seven players will be at their third World Cup, including No. 3 goalkeeper Tony Meola, the only holdover from the 1990 team, and fellow goalies Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel; midfielders Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna and Earnie Stewart; and forward Joe-Max Moore.

Five will be at their second tournament: defenders Agoos, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Pope and David Regis; and forward Brian McBride.

Four years ago, several of the veterans who didn't see much action sniped publicly at coach Steve Sampson. The United States lost to Germany (2-0), Iran (2-1) and Yugoslavia (1-0).

''We're going to make believe it never happened,'' Arena said. ''It's a clean slate in 2002. They're going to be a better team than we saw in 1998.''

In addition to Beasley, Donovan, Mastroeni and Wolff, other newcomers include defenders Gregg Berhalter, Carlos Llamosa and Tony Sanneh; midfielders Chris Armas, Eddie Lewis and John O'Brien; and forward Clint Mathis.

''It's been a long road, especially almost a year ago tearing my ACL,'' said Mathis, who has been the hottest U.S. player since his return, scoring twice against Germany and twice against Honduras last month.

Jones, who has played 157 games with the national team, has the most international experience, followed by Agoos, who has played 127 games, but never gotten into a World Cup match.

Among the players who saw time in qualifying in 2000 and 2001, the biggest omission was defender Steve Cherundolo, who has struggled of late.

Twelve players come from Major League Soccer, including three from the Chicago Fire: Armas, Beasley and Wolff.

The U.S. team will start to gather May 1 at Cary, N.C., then play exhibition games against Uruguay (May 12 at Washington), Jamaica (May 16 at East Rutherford, N.J.) and the Netherlands (May 19 at Foxboro, Mass.) before leaving for South Korea on May 23.

Arena expects 19 players to arrive on time for the start of camp. O'Brien will stay with Ajax Amsterdam for the Dutch Cup final, and Regis, Reyna and Sanneh are on European clubs fighting to avoid relegation.



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