Only the fit should apply
Mathis could lose starting spot against PortugalPosted: Saturday June 01, 2002 1:18 PM
Updated: Sunday June 02, 2002 1:01 AM
By Paul Kennedy, Soccer America
SEOUL -- If U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena has made a decision on his starting lineup for the World Cup opener against Portugal Wednesday, he's not telling.
At Saturday's media conference here, Portuguese reporters wanted the U.S. plan for Portugal.
"You want to know how we are going to play against Portugal?" Arena asked. "Well, I'm not going to tell you."
The first two days of the World Cup have underscored the importance of speed and fitness. It was the speed of Senegalese striker El Hadji Diouf that weighed on the aging French defense in the Lions' 1-0 victory. Saudi Arabia couldn't handle the strength of Miroslav Klose and Carsten Jancker up front.
While the Americans insist Kasey Keller is fit, his elbow injury might help Arena make a decision about who will start in goal. Said Arena, "I have been on record a lot on how I feel about the goalkeepers, and it really boils down to who we think is in the best form and who is the fittest at this time."
Note the added reference to fitness.
The problem the U.S. will have with the Portuguese is that their strength is their attack down the right side (Rui Costa and Luis Figo -- if the latter plays). That's the territory patrolled by David Regis. Arena's biggest concern this year has been Regis' poor play at left back. One option: Frankie Hejduk, always one of the fittest U.S. players, who has been training at left back.
Just as DaMarcus Beasley's pace (and skill) won him a starting spot in midfield in the last month, Arena's recent comments about Clint Mathis' poor training habits in national publications are an indicator that Mathis' spot in the U.S. lineup is not assured.
Among the adjustments to compensate for the absence of defensive midfielder Chris Armas, Arena might employ a 4-5-1 in which Claudio Reyna and John O'Brien share the role of holding midfielders, and Landon Donovan is moved into front of them, costing Mathis his spot.
Finally, there's the question of the lone striker. Will Arena stick with Brian McBride? The strikers who have caused the most trouble are players with pace: Diouf, Klose and Cameroon's Samuel Eto'oe. Pace that Josh Wolff could provide.
Paul Kennedy is managing editor at Soccer America magazine.