Poland could spell danger for U.S.Posted: Friday June 14, 2002 2:54 AM
By Ridge Mahoney, Soccer America
Pitfall or pushover? The Polish team that faces the United States Friday as Group D of the World Cup concludes could be either one, or a little bit of both.
Unlike the USA, which can advance to the second round with a tie, Poland is without points and hope. It has been shut out in its two losses to South Korea and Portugal while conceding six goals.
Playmaker Piotr Swierczewski is suspended. Defensive midfielder Radoslaw Kaluzny is injured.
In other words, a pushover.
But that bleak scenario, believes assistant coach Glenn Myernick, makes Poland a potential pitfall because Coach Jerzy Engel can do whatever he wants with tactics, player selection, motivational speeches, incantations, whatever.
Engel owns thoroughbred racehorses and by his own admission isn’t adverse to betting on them, but whether he’ll gamble in this case is anyone’s guess.
“This is a unique situation,” said Myernick prior to the U.S. team’s departure for Daejon where it plays 8:30 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. Eastern in the U.S.) on Friday. “He could give guys who haven’t played a minute a chance, he could put out what he feels is his best team. We haven’t a clue what he’s going to do.”
Regardless, the USA has more than a clue as to what it must do in order to secure at least that point: move the ball crisply and stay sharp at the back.
Despite its four points, the Americans have enough concerns without delving into the collective Polish psyche.
Defender Jeff Agoos has rocketed a shot into his own net, been beaten in the air for an equalizer against South Korea and been whistled for a penalty kick. Those miscues mar an otherwise decent performance and they are too glaring to ignore.
The furious pressure applied by South Korea’s swarming squad produced 19 shots to six for the Americans. Brad Friedel sprouted enough extra appendages to repel all but one Korean shot, yet a team can’t bank on its goalie game after game.
The Americans know a tie is enough. For decades, nations like Italy and Germany have tied their way out of the first round on their way to glory.
But do the Americans know how to play for a tie? If they do, is it the right approach?
“It’s dangerous to play for a tie,” said defender Eddie Pope, who fierce challenges and timely tackles have bailed out a few of his teammates in the first two games. “It’s something I don’t think a lot of guys feel comfortable with.
“If we go out and play hard and do things we’ve done in the past we’ll have an opportunity to win.”
The U.S. would win the group with a victory coupled with a tie or a Portugal win over South Korea. That would match up the Americans with three-time world champion Italy, which finished second in Group G, and earn an extra day of rest (until Tuesday night).
In the contrary nature of this upset-rich World Cup, second place means a clash with regional rival Mexico on Monday afternoon. A superclassico for sure.
Echoing the treacherous theme of looking that far ahead in disregard of Poland is Myernick.
“They were dangerous before the tournament started,” he says. “Right now, with two losses, without any pressure, makes them a very dangerous opponent.”
The U.S. could still qualify with a loss, but would be dependent on other results and an upgrade in its goal difference. Portugal has the best goal difference (plus-3) even though it has one less point than South Korea (plus-2) and the U.S. (plus-1).
Rather than pressure the ball as did the quick Portuguese and the turbocharged South Koreans, the Poles prefer a slower, more methodical, stodgier approach.
But on the counterattack they will launch naturalized Nigerian Emmanuel Olisadebe, who scored eight of their goals in qualifying. His forward partner, Pawel Kryszalowicz, is a scavenging mongrel who turns scraps and leftovers into goals.
Olisadebe has looked awful in Poland’s first two games, but he could look awfully scary to the U.S. with the ball at his feet and just one defender between him and the goal.
“They are definitely a counterattacking team,” said forward Brian McBride. “They do it pretty well actually.
“We’ve got to make sure we don’t lose our shape going forward, that’s the biggest thing, and make sure we have all their players accounted for even when we have the ball.
“I’m sure they’re going to be pretty hungry to get a result.”
Midfielder Earnie Stewart is expected back in the lineup after missing the South Korea game with a groin strain, which probably means Landon Donovan goes back up top with either McBride or Clint Mathis.
No other lineup changes are forecast and specifically the coaching staff professed a reluctance to sit players who are carrying yellow cards: DaMarcus Beasley, Jeff Agoos, and Frankie Hejduk.
A caution in the Poland game would rule those players out of the round-of-16 match. Players with just one card after three first-round games have them expunged from their record.
Yet the card situation might prompt Arena to use subs earlier, assuming the right scoreline has been attained. He used Pablo Mastroeni as a starter against Portugal and brought on Cobi Jones, Joe-Max Moore, Josh Wolff, and Eddie Lewis as subs.
Negating the speed of Beasley and Donovan is sure to be in Poland’s game plan and their desperation suggests they won’t be choosy about methods used to stop the twin whirlwinds.
At the best of times, Poland erects a rugged defense and keeps seven or eight players back. Its defenders are tall and wide and chiseled but not so fast.
If the U.S. zips the ball smartly as it did in warm-up games against Uruguay and Holland and for much of the first half against Portugal, it can pry apart the rigid Polish foundation, especially if McBride can match his dominance of Fernando Couto.
If not, well as they say, danger lurks.
Ridge Mahoney is senior editor at Soccer America magazine.