June 13, 2006

USA, Arena '73 Fall to Czech Republic in Opening Game

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Head coach Bruce Arena ’73 and the men’s national soccer team stumbled out of the gates in its first game at the 2006 World Cup, falling 3-0 to the Czech Republic in Gelsenkirchen, Germany, yesterday in the first game of group play.

“We didn’t play well. We didn’t compete. We didn’t make the plays,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller, one of many U.S. players criticized Arena, told the Associated Press. “It was just a shame. We definitely gave the game away, and that’s what we’re frustrated about.”

The Czechs opened scoring in the fifth minute of the match, when 6-7 forward Jan Koller used his head to redirect a cross past Keller. Tomas Rosicky also found the back of the net, blasting a shot into the back of the net from 30 yards out in the 36th minute and flicking a shot past Keller on a breakaway in the 76th minute.

Arena’s squad mustered only one shot on goal and never tested goalkeeper Petr Cech, who did not register a single save in net for the Czechs. The Americans’ performance did little to live up to the expectations created by advancing to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup under Arena’s direction in the best finish by the U.S. since 1930.

According to Arena, the lopsided result was the consequence of a lack of direction and initiative on the part of the American side.

“Landon [Donovan] showed no aggressiveness tonight,” Arena told the AP. “We got nothing out of [DaMarcus] Beasley on the night.”

Arena also said Keller failed to distribute the ball well. He saved all his praise for Bobby Convey, making his first World Cup appearance, who he said was one of the few Americans who had “the courage” to attack the Czech defense.

The Americans will return to action on Saturday, when they face Italy, a 2-0 winner over Ghana yesterday.

Arena was a second-team All-American lacrosse player while at Cornell and an All-Ivy goalkeeper for the soccer team. He was recruited by lacrosse coach Richie Moran after transferring to Cornell, and eventually by soccer coach Dan Wood after the Red’s starting and backup goaltenders were injured. Arena anchored the 1972 soccer team to the NCAA national championship semifinals, and was named the most valuable defensive player of the team.

The longest-tenured coach at the World Cup, Arena got his start on the sidelines as an assistant for the Varsity B lacrosse team. He went on to build Virginia’s men’s soccer program into a five-time NCAA national champion, as well as coaching the D.C. United of Major League Soccer and the 1996 U.S. Olympic team before taking on his present position.