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GOLD CUP

Hejduk Thankful for Second Chance

January 21, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Whenever former UCLA defender Frankie Hejduk's name has come up during the past year, it invariably has had the phrase "languishing on the bench at Bayer Leverkusen" attached to it.

Indeed, after being a starter in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the France '98 World Cup and the 2000 Sydney Olympics, Hejduk virtually vanished from the radar as far as the U.S. national soccer team was concerned.

He was earning a good salary in the German Bundesliga, but he wasn't a starter there and thus became almost a forgotten man on this side of the Atlantic.

Hejduk, 27, didn't play a single minute for the U.S. in 2001, but Coach Bruce Arena has called him back into the team for the CONCACAF Gold Cup now under way in Miami and Pasadena.

That's because Arena was not totally satisfied that either Steve Cherundolo or Tony Sanneh was the correct player to fill the right back position at the Japan/Korea World Cup this summer.

"Frankie has a lot of international experience," Arena explained. "Obviously, the last couple of years at Leverkusen have not been the best for him in terms of the amount of playing time he's received, but at the same time we know Frankie is a player with some unique qualities.

"He can play the right side of the field in a position where we still aren't fully convinced we have the right players and are not getting the kind of play we need out of the right back position."

Hejduk played all 90 minutes in Saturday's 2-1 victory over South Korea at the Rose Bowl and will start again in today's 3 p.m. game against Cuba.

"It's just good to be back on the team, and I thank Bruce for giving me another shot at being able to come back," Hejduk said. "I know it's a difficult decision for him being as I'm not starting regularly at Leverkusen, but I still do get games, I still do get 90 minutes every weekend with the reserve team."

Hejduk was satisfied with his 31st appearance for the national team.

"I thought it was all right," he said. "I haven't been in the national team for a little while, so of course you get some butterflies and nerves and you always want to do more to make an impression than sometimes you're able to do.

"But I tried to play simple. I tried to do the things that Bruce told me to do before the game.... The more games you play the better you get and the more confidence you get. So today I think was all right and we came out with a victory which was good too."

*

In Gold Cup games Sunday at Miami, Costa Rica advanced to the quarterfinals with a 1-1 tie against Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti kept its hopes alive with a 2-0 victory against Ecuador.

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