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Why They'll Win

ANALYSIS

United States: Friedel, who may be the best goalie in the Cup, inspires teammates.

June 16, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — The reason the United States can beat Mexico on Monday and advance to the quarterfinals of the World Cup for the first time in 72 years is unmistakable.

He stands 6 feet 4, weighs a little more than 200 pounds, wears his hair so close-cropped that at first glance he seems bald, and speaks with an English accent even though he is from Bay Village, Ohio, by way of UCLA and the Blackburn Rovers.

Brad Friedel has been outstanding at this World Cup. In three games, he has made a strong case to be considered the goalkeeper of the tournament. Among his string of world-class saves over the last two weeks have been two snuffed penalty kicks, one against South Korea and one against Poland.

DaMarcus Beasley has played well and will threaten Mexico on the left flank, John O'Brien has played extremely well and will cause Mexico problems at both ends of the field. But Friedel has been exceptional.

If he maintains that form for another 90 minutes, and if the U.S. can somehow sneak a goal or two as it did in beating Mexico, 2-0, in Columbus, Ohio, during World Cup qualifying play when Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff scored, then the smile will be on American faces come Monday evening.

"What are the chances of a U.S. victory?" Friedel asked Saturday, repeating a question posed to him. "Very, very good. There's no doubt in my mind about that.

"For me right now it's a great feeling to be in the second round in a competition that's not on our home soil. It is not a small achievement for a soccer nation, which we are. It's a very large achievement.

"We've been fortunate right now to be paired up with somebody [Mexico] we know very, very well and we know that we can beat them. We have to be very, very good to beat them, but we know that we can. That's a bonus.

"Right now we know that we have a legitimate chance to get to the quarterfinals, which again would be an unbelievable achievement for U.S. soccer."

Friedel's outstanding performance in the first round, including the two penalty saves, even prompted U.S. Coach Bruce Arena to joke about it Saturday.

"We're on a roll right now on penalty kicks," he said. "We'd rather give teams a penalty kick than a corner kick at this point."

Friedel has inspired that confidence throughout the U.S. team.

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