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U.S. SOCCER NEEDS YOUTHFUL BOOST.

Byline: KEVIN MODESTI

CARSON - Jonathan Bornstein watched the World Cup wherever he found a TV last summer. Usually, this was in the airport or hotel he and his Chivas USA teammates were hustling through at a given moment. He thinks he caught all but 45minutes of the United States' three games.

Apart from missing the couch comfort that you and I enjoyed, Bornstein remembers the experience exactly as we do.

He was disappointed to see his national team swoon in June.

``It was a little disheartening, being a U.S. soccer player, watching the team not do as well as we thought four years prior,'' said the young defender, who played collegiately at UCLA. ``The World Cup is hard. You can have (one) bad game, and you're like, `Man, it's done.'''

The good news for Bornstein, being a U.S. soccer player, is that he's part of the next generation of talent that has a chance to put right what went wrong in Germany.

Saturday afternoon at Home Depot Center, Bornstein and fellow 21- year-olds Justin Mapp and Kenny Cooper began the repair job by leading the United States past Denmark 3-1 in a friendly that marked the team's debut under interim coach Bob Bradley and the start of its buildup to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

But the come-from-behind win came only after a look around the stadium revealed how much work the U.S. entry in the world's biggest sport has to do to restore the faith of its public after the team, which had been ranked as high as No.4 in the spurious FIFA rankings, was bounced out of the Group of Death with only a draw against eventual champion Italy to soothe its pride.

The crowd on this chilly but clear Saturday numbered only 10,048, and near one corner flag, fans hung a banner reading, ``Where's Klinsmann?'' in a bitter reference to Juergen Klinsmann, the ex-German coach the United States failed to sign to replace Bruce Arena.

The small crowd, about 6,000 short of what a U.S.-Norway friendly drew a year ago, might have had something to do with neither side being at full strength because of injuries and players' European club commitments.

But it might also have had something to do with the dispiriting results in Gelsenkirchen (3-0 loss to the Czech Republic), Kaiserslautern (1-1 draw with Italy) and Nuremberg (2-1 loss to Ghana).

Maybe Americans felt they were oversold on the United States' chances after the encouraging World Cup of 2002 and successes at regional competitions.

Maybe they'll take longer than sixmonths to get over their disappointment. Maybe this is one problem for soccer here that can't be solved by David Beckham.

Nobody expected a U.S. championship at the World Cup. Everybody expected more than they got.

``Did we bring along two extra security guards to take the trophy home on the plane? No,'' Sunil Gulati, the U.S. Soccer boss, said before Saturday's kickoff. ``We brought one, and he was a little guy.''

Gulati said if Americans concluded their team was overhyped, that wasn't the team's fault.

``It's natural, and it's good when expectations rise,'' Gulati said. ``(That) only happens when you're successful, when you're winning games. It wasn't based on us saying, `We're good!'''

Now that expectations have been lowered again because they weren't winning games, it's up to Bradley (or whoever the new coach will be) and these kids (whoever among them sticks with the team) to lift them up again.

If their run-up to South Africa follows the arc of Saturday's game, it will be a slow but ultimately fulfilling process.

With a starting 11 whose only 2006 World Cup regulars were Landon Donovan, Pablo Mastroeni and Jimmy Conrad, the team looked jumpy in the first half and fell behind in the 37th minute after Chris Albright's weak attempt at a clearing header led to Dennis Sorensen's goal. It took a penalty, won by Ricardo Clark and booted home by Donovan, to get the United States even in the 44th.

Donovan, working from the right side, looked energetic, sharp and on the same tactical page as Bradley. Eddie Johnson did not -- again -- in the front.

And Bornstein was shaky at the back. So give them points for bouncing back.

Bradley's halftime substitute, Mapp, made a stunning run through the right side of the Danish defense and threaded a pass that Bornstein right- footed from close range for 2-1 in the 57th minute. Then a 63rd-minute sub, Cooper, broke in alone and struck from 20 yards to ice the game in the 80th.

And note that kids came to the rescue. Bornstein, the MLS Rookie of the Year who was born nearby in Torrance, and Cooper, one of the MLS' top scorers with FC Dallas, were making their national-team debuts. Mapp, voted to the league's Best XI, was earning his second cap.

Veterans will get more time in the United States' next match against Mexico in Glendale, Ariz., on Feb.7, which will be tougher. The hope is that Saturday's match portends a bright future, and not a moment too soon, because it's past time to look forward to the next World Cup and forget about the last.

``In all the competitions leading up to the World Cup, we have to prove to the world that the U.S. is a team not to be taken lightly,'' Bornstein said of the challenge. ``It's not just saying something and hoping it happens. It's actually doing something about it.''

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Photo:

Jonathan Bornstein of the United States controls the ball Saturday in a friendly against Denmark.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 21, 2007
Words:955
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