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Defense, not offense, biggest worry for US

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June 7, 2010
— Instead of worrying where the goals are going to come from, this U.S. soccer team’s biggest concern is keeping the ball out of its own net.

Four years ago, the Americans outscored opponents 3-1 in their final three World Cups warmups, as Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia played mostly behind the ball with packed in defenses. The time, against more talented opponents, the U.S. had a 7-6 margin against the Czech Republic, Turkey and Australia.


While the offense was flowing, the backline was inconsistent.


“I think it’s coming together quite well,” defender Oguchi Onyewu said. “That’s why we’ve been in camp for so long, you know, just to get the communication and get the chemistry down, and I think, you know, everyone is starting to jell together as a team.”


Heading into Saturday’s World Cup opener against England, Onyewu may be the biggest question. The 6-foot-4 defensive anchor tore his left patellar tendon Oct. 14 during the final World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica and had surgery a week later. He didn’t make it back onto the field for AC Milan.


Onyewu returned May 25 against the Czech Republic, playing until the 65th minute and getting beaten to a header by Tomas Sivok for the first Czech goal. Onyewu entered at the start of the second half against Turkey four days later, then came in the 61st Saturday against Australia.


“I’m personally feeling better since the camp started a couple, a few weeks ago,” Onyewu said. “Right now, there haven’t been any issues. I’m feeling good and there’s nothing more to say.”


Onyewu hasn’t gone 90 minutes in a match since Oct. 10. Clarence Goodson started the last three warmup games and could be paired with Jay DeMerit against the English.


Against the Socceroos, the U.S. was outshot 14-11 and conceded eight corner kicks while getting just three. Several Aussie corners and crosses fell into the penalty area untouched.


“Obviously there’s been some mixing and matching. But that’s both in terms of injuries and fitness,” midfielder Stuart Holden said. “I think that the friendlies have done a world of good in terms of jelling the backline together and helping everybody get reacquainted with each other. And I think, come England, I think we’ll be more than prepared and everybody will be ready to go.”


Still, the defense hasn’t been quite as impressive during this cycle as in the previous four years. The U.S. outscored opponents 42-16 in qualifying while the differential was 35-11 in the preliminaries for the 2006 World Cup.


“We’ve done a few things in the last couple days to get that better. I feel like we’re moving in the right direction,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said after the Australia match. “The game helped. I thought we played well. You know, we’ve watched some video. We’ve done some things on the training. So, yeah, it’s getting there. It’s getting there.”


Onyewu insists he will come back stronger than he was before the injury. But with players given the day off Monday, he has just four training sessions to show he’s ready for one of the bigger matches in U.S. soccer history.


“I think it was smart to take things in steps with me, and I feel confident right now. I don’t think that I’ve shown in the last two games any signs of weakness in my game,” he said. “So I’ll just have to wait until next Saturday and see.”


NOTES: With players given their first day off since arriving last Monday, some went to a lion park, others played golf, some went fishing and some stayed at the hotel and enjoyed the sun.



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