|Profiles - World Cup Teams - USA|
The one positive aspect the United States can take from a thoroughly miserable
last place at the 1998 World Cup is that they couldn't possibly perform
any worse at this summer's tournament.
Instead of building on their performance at the 1994 World Cup on home soil where they lost 1-0 to Brazil in the second round, the U.S. team looked to have taken a backward step in 1998 with three consecutive defeats by Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia.
When the dust had settled on that disaster, the U.S. replaced coach Steve Sampson with Bruce Arena in a program aimed at injecting some much needed youth into an aging squad.
Arena led America to third place in Concacaf sectional qualifying but the journey was far from comfortable.
After putting together a run of four wins and one draw from their first five matches, America slumped badly, losing three in a row to Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica.
A 2-1 home win over Jamaica stopped the rot but the U.S. only confirmed their place at this year's World Cup in the final round of fixtures, drawing 0-0 with Trinidad & Tobago while Honduras, who pushed them all the way, went down 3-0 to Mexico.
While the U.S. defense has always been relatively solid, if somewhat pedestrian, creativity in forward areas is sorely lacking. Arena is well aware of the technical limitations of his charges and has adopted a formation and system to play to the squad's strengths, but there is little doubt the U.S. would give anything to unearth a player capable of providing a spark for the team such as a Roy Wegerle or an Eric Wynalda.
Heavy on industry but light on invention, the U.S. midfield is led by Claudio Reyna, one of few American players to meet with success in Europe.
Despite pushing five men into the midfield for some fixtures, America still finds it difficult to gain effective service from wide areas. While Cobi Jones maintains that livewire look about him, the 31 year old now struggles at international level due to the erosion of his once exhilarating acceleration.
But it is not all doom and gloom for the U.S. as they prepare to face Portugal, Poland and South Korea in Group D of the 2002 World Cup finals.
Young forward Josh Wolff has come through the ranks of America's youth
system and while he is far from the finished article, Wolff has shown
enough potential to suggest he will be part of the American setup for
a while to come.
Joining Glasgow Rangers in the Scottish Premier League from German club Wolfsburg, Reyna is a tough tackling and intelligent runner, who's all-action style is a definite crowd pleaser.
Functioning best in his favored position at center midfield, Reyna has drawn comparisons with France's "water carrier," Didier Deschamps, but his adaptability has seen him perform effectively on the right side of midfield and even at right back.
Lured to the English Premiership by Peter Reid's Sunderland, Reyna has yet to make a similar impression as he did in Scotland but will undoubtedly do so if he can stay clear of the troublesome hamstring injury that has seen him sit on the sidelines for extended periods.
Taking on more of the creative responsibilities with the U.S. national team has not been a problem for "Captain America," though with so much of the play revolving around him, Reyna will have to take his aggressive stance down a defcon level or two if he is to make an impression at the World Cup finals.
While he is far from being a dirty player, Reyna's blood does tend to boil over on occasion as was exemplified by a two-match suspension incurred for throwing his captain's armband at the referee after a controversial loss to Costa Rica last September.