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U.S. starts final pre-World Cup exhibitions

Posted: Sunday, May 12, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Less than three weeks before the start of the World Cup, the United States still can't get its full team together.

When the Americans play Uruguay on Sunday at RFK Stadium, the first of three exhibition games in an eight-day span, they'll be missing midfielders Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien and Eddie Lewis, along with goalkeeper Kasey Keller. All four were in Europe for their clubs' final games of the season this weekend.

''We're not at our best right now but we're not supposed to be. Our whole focus is June 5,'' U.S. coach Bruce Arena said Saturday, referring to the date of his team's World Cup opener. ''I want to continue to see that the team is starting to look like a team. That takes time with national teams that don't have a lot of time together. It's not as much about results, but more about seeing the team play well together.''

After playing Uruguay, the eighth World Cup-bound opponent for the Americans this year, the U.S. team faces Jamaica on Thursday in East Rutherford, N.J., then concludes its 14-game pre-World Cup schedule against the Netherlands on May 19 in Foxboro, Mass.

It's a far stronger trio of opponents than four years ago, when the Americans played Macedonia, Kuwait and Scotland before finishing last among the 32 teams in France, with losses to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia.

''It'll be a good test and that's what we need now,'' defender Jeff Agoos said. ''We need to see where we're at.''

With Reyna absent, Landon Donovan figures to start as the playmaking midfielder, playing behind Earnie Stewart, Clint Mathis and Brian McBride. Brad Friedel, competing with Keller for the starting job, will start in goal.

''I don't think any of these games are make or break,'' Friedel said. ''I think he somewhat knows already who he wants to be keeper.''

Arena's choices for defense, which has been shaky this month, will be interesting. The most likely combination is Eddie Pope and Agoos in the center of the field, with David Regis and Tony Sanneh on the outside.

''There's nothing to read into in these three games,'' Arena said. ''The World Cup first game lineup will certainly be different than these three games.''

Defender Carlos Llamosa, who started seven of 16 World Cup qualifiers, is sidelined by an injured right hamstring.

''We're going to give it 10 days and we'll see how he responds,'' Arena said, ''and if he's still not good enough to play, then we'll consider a roster change.''

Keller and Reyna were in North Carolina for the start of training camp on May 1, then returned to England for the final Saturday of the Premier League season. O'Brien and Lewis were the only players not to make a 10-day training camp in Cary, N.C., that started May 1.

''It went well. The emphasis was on fitness,'' Arena said.

On Tuesday, he criticized Mathis' condition, telling The Washington Post: ''I think it's a combination of his environment with his club team and the fact that Clint is not always fully accountable for himself as well. That's something he has to do a little bit more of. Having said that, I do want to say whenever we have him in camp, he works hard. But we don't have control of him 24 hours a day, year-round; that's part of the issue.''

On Saturday, Arena said the remark achieved its goal.

''He's done well. We had to push him and I think he got the point,'' the coach said.

All players other than Llamosa are expected to be available for the games against Jamaica and the Netherlands. After that, the players get three days off before the trip to South Korea, where the Americans play Portugal (June 5), South Korea (June 10) and Poland (June 14).



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