Posted: Thursday June 22, 2006 4:25PM; Updated: Thursday June 22, 2006 8:39PM
Captain Claudio Reyna's first-half knee injury really hurt the U.S. attack.
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When it was over, the U.S.'s top attacking threat had managed only one shot in three World Cup games.
"Not great," said Donovan when asked to describe his performance in this World Cup. "A little disappointing. The one game I thought I played good in, I didn't have a chance to do what I want to do, and that was the Italy game. The Czech game I never really got into it, never really had a chance. Once you're down two goals it makes it hard. Then today in the second half I just couldn't find anything."
Nor did it help the U.S. to lose Reyna in the first half to a strained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. Reyna was injured on the play that created Ghana's first goal, when forward Haminu Draman knocked Reyna's knee with his own, stripping the ball and sending himself on a breakaway.
"I should probably have just cleared," Reyna said. "I got the ball played back to me, and when I took my first touch the guy just closed me really quick. I couldn't clear it and tried to dribble out and was just caught. My first decision probably should have been the right one, just to kick it out of there."
Without Reyna in the central midfield, the U.S. resorted to an endless series of longballs from the back that rarely had any imagination or success. Aside from DaMarcus Beasley's steal and subsequent assist on Dempsey's goal, the U.S. created little offense once Reyna was out of the game.
"We've got a long way to go to be consistent competitively with the best teams in the world," said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati afterward. "We know that. I don't think it's light years as a lot of people were saying after the Czech game. But we have a pretty good handle on the difference between the FIFA rankings [in which the U.S. is fifth] and where we stack up in a competitive situation. I think we can play with anybody on a given day, but I don't think anybody on our end that looks at the game would say we'd be likely to hold our own seven out of 10 times against Argentina or Brazil or Germany or Holland or France or Italy. But can we compete with those teams? Yes."
And so, four years after reaching the World Cup quarterfinals, the U.S. is out in Round 1. There will be more to talk about in the coming days and weeks -- Will Gulati invite Arena to stick around for four more years? Will any other players join Reyna in ending their World Cup careers? -- but for today the talk is of disappointment at a golden opportunity missed.
With Italy's win over the Czech Republic, the U.S. could have qualified for the second round with win, and it failed. And you can't blame that entirely on a referee.
"We put ourselves into position to advance," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "Obviously we're disappointed with the decisions of the referee, but in the end, we didn't make the plays we needed to make. It's as simple as that."