Mon, May 08, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Americans overreact to high ranking ahead of World Cup


American soccer players finally are larger than life.

A 21.5m Nike billboard in New York and a nearly identical 12m ad overlooking San Francisco's Union Square show Eddie Johnson, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley and proclaim in huge yellow letters: "THE WORLD NO LONGER WANTS TO PLAY US."

While the Americans are ranked fourth in the world by FIFA, trailing only defending champion Brazil, the Czech Republic and the Netherlands, that statement seems a bit cocky.

"Maybe some guys were looking at that ranking a little bit too seriously," goalkeeper Kasey Keller said after a 4-1 loss at Germany in a friendly in March.

Four year ago, the Americans lost to Germany 1-0 in the quarterfinals, their best World Cup showing since the first tournament in 1930.

Eleven players return from the 2002 roster, led by Donovan, Beasley, Keller, Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride and Eddie Pope.

Johnson and defender Oguchi Onyewu headline a group of newcomers that makes this US team the strongest ever. But the Americans were drawn into a tough first-round group that includes the Czechs, Italy and Ghana.

And if the US advances, there's a good chance it would face Brazil in the second round.

"Would I bet that nine times out of 10 we're going to beat Brazil? Probably not," Donovan said. "Could we beat Brazil? Absolutely. So you have to be a little bit realistic, but we want to put ourselves in that situation. And if we're in that situation, I would still be confident."

Arena, who took over as coach after a last-place finish in the 1998 tournament, enters with the longest consecutive tenure among the 32 World Cup coach, PSV Eindhoven's Beasley and the Los Angeles Galaxy's Donovan key the midfield, where Colorado's Pablo Mastroeni could be a holding midfielder. In alternative formations, New England's Clint Dempsey could start in the midfield, too, and Donovan could be pushed up to forward.

McBride, who had nine Premier League goals for Fulham heading into his club's final game, is the leading forward, and could be joined by the 22-year-old Johnson or Josh Wolff, who both play for Kansas City, or Houston's Brian Ching, chosen for the last forward spot over Major League Soccer Most Valuable Player Taylor Twellman of New England.

When the tournament starts, Donovan and Beasley will both be 24. They helped turn around the attitude of a team that viewed itself as a perennial underdog.

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