Arena hails attackers' finishing skills as USA advances in Gold Cup
COMMENTARY - By William Olson
dailysoccer.com American Soccer Correspondent
January 28, 2002 (DS) - United States coach Bruce Arena hailed the much-maligned finishing skills of his strikers following the USA's 4-0 win over El Salvador in their CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal-round match at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, on Sunday afternoon.
Brian McBride, one of those strikers whose wayward finishing has been the object of much scrutiny, was the main protagonist, completing a 12-minute first-half hat-trick to lead the way before strike partner Ante Razov completed the scoring well into the second half when the result against an El Salvador side which had gone down to ten men was no longer in doubt.
Arena gave particular praise to McBride, whose efforts have signalled a return to form in a checkered 12-month period marked by various injuries, including the return of a blood clot in his left arm last winter.
"There's no question he's made it back from his injuries, which is good news. He's not where he wants to be, or where I want him to be, and that's just going to take some time," said Arena.
"Brian does a lot of good things on the field. I thought his performance against Cuba was outstanding, and today obviously who can argue with the three goals. He's been good, and it's a real good sign to see in the early going that we have Brian back," he added.
McBride, meanwhile, took great satisfaction after scoring goals in the ninth, eleventh and 21st minutes that put the game out of reach by the intermission.
"It feels really good. I think our runs in the box today were excellent," said McBride afterwards. "Ante [Razov] made a lot of runs that freed up space for me. It just so happened that I was in the right place today. It feels really good to score in the run of play, and more so it's great for us to get a few goals and keep our momentum going."
McBride also felt that it was up to the team as a whole to put their finishing woes behind them after lackluster finishing in first-round wins over South Korea and Cuba only merited three goals.
"We came out wanting to get after them from the beginning. Another important thing we talked about was getting that second goal right away and continuing to push forward. Our finishing was much better today," he said.
And McBride was also adamant in saying that his injury battles are behind him. "I feel good. My physical condition is good," McBride said, while adding about his blood clot disorder: "That's not on my mind any more. The vein that was involved is dead, so it should be no problem."
Arena also praised the efforts of Clint Mathis, who made his first international appearance in seven months after spelling McBride in the 63rd minute and put forth a solid effort.
"I'm glad we got him back on the field today," said Arena. "It's going to take him probably another two months before he's ready, but it's good to see him on the field."
"I think psychologically this helps him just to put the uniform back on and to step on the field. I can tell he's still not there. He doesn't have the explosiveness. But his first touch is still like it was when he was injured in June, and he still has great vision. I think he still has a little bit more to go in the physical aspect, but I'm confident that as we move into the spring he's going to get back to 100 percent."
"I think it was a good test. It helps already being three up, which takes a bit of the pressure off. I hope I can continue to push forward and get some more of these games in and continue to get fit," said Mathis.
The USA will play defending Gold Cup holders Canada at the Rose Bowl in one of the two semifinals on Wednesday, while World Cup co-hosts South Korea-- which surprisingly ousted Mexico on penalty kicks in the first of the two quarterfinal games in Pasadena on Sunday-- will take on Costa Rica in the other semifinal.
"We obviously started the game in strong fashion today in getting an early goal, and the second one following shortly after made our task a lot easier today," said Arena about Sunday's overall effort tempered by heavy rain and the 64th-minute ejection of El Salvador's Marvin Benitez. "As the game went on, it was a matter of survival with the elements, the field conditions, and having to deal with some pretty bad fouls. Now our challenge is to get our team ready for Wednesday."