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Johnson and U.S. Off to a Fast Start

Young forward scores his sixth goal in four games to lead Americans to 2-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago in World Cup qualifying match.

February 10, 2005|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — It figured that Eddie Johnson would be from Daytona Beach, Fla. No one in the history of U.S. soccer has made a faster start.

On Wednesday, the youngster -- he's not yet 21 -- played in only his fourth game for the national team and made only his second start. Yet he scored his sixth goal, on a header in the 30th minute that put the Americans on their way to a 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Trinidad and Tobago.

Johnson has torn up the record books since making his national team debut against El Salvador in October.

He scored in that game as a substitute, then scored three goals in his next game against Panama, also after coming off the bench. He then made his first start, against Jamaica, and scored. And now Trinidad.

Along the way, Johnson has:

* Become the first U.S. player to score in his first four games, each of them World Cup qualifiers.

* Tied the U.S. record held by William Looby (1955) and Brian McBride (2001) of scoring in four consecutive games.

* Averaged a goal every 37 minutes for the national team.

* Moved into third place on the all-time scoring list for the U.S. in World Cup qualifying, behind Earnie Stewart (nine goals) and Brian McBride (seven).

* Boosted the U.S. chances of qualifying for the Germany 2006 World Cup.

"It's crazy, man," Johnson said, still moving fast as he rushed to catch the bus that took the team to the airport for its charter flight to Miami. "It's all about putting yourself in the right spot at the right time and just getting on the end of stuff."

Bruce Arena, the U.S. coach, had a bit more time to put Johnson's accomplishments in perspective.

"He continues to get better," Arena said. "You can see he's still a little bit inexperienced, but there are so many good qualities there to help make us a dangerous team going forward -- size, strength, ability to take people on, speed, ability to hold the ball, being a good partner for McBride."

On a hot but otherwise pleasant afternoon at the Queen's Park Oval, the Americans took the game to the islanders from the outset, never allowing Trinidad and Tobago to settle into any sort of rhythm, despite the steel band drumbeat of support from the red-clad sellout crowd.

There were no surprises in Arena's starting lineup, which featured goalkeeper Kasey Keller, defenders Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope, Cory Gibbs and Carlos Bocanegra, along with midfielders Pablo Mastroeni, Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis and DaMarcus Beasley and forwards McBride and Johnson.

Johnson's goal, off a pass from the right flank by Cherundolo, came on the simplest of headers as he nodded the ball into the right corner of the net with goalkeeper Shaka Hislop caught flat-footed.

"It was a good ball from Steve," Johnson said. "The weight was already on the ball, it was just about me redirecting it. I think I caught the keeper off guard."

The U.S. moved the ball around confidently, especially after taking the lead, and, until the late going, Trinidad and Tobago seldom threatened. Keller, in fact, was forced to make only one challenging save in the first hour.

That came when he rushed out to block a shot by Leslie Fitzpatrick and then watched as Kenwyne Jones blasted the rebound over the crossbar.

Moments later, in the 54th minute, Lewis scored his seventh goal for the national team and his first in qualifying play, taking a pass from Donovan and firing a shot from 23 yards into the right corner to give the U.S. some breathing room.

"It was a very good goal by Eddie," Arena said. "Obviously, we told our guys we had to get the second goal. We got it and it made things certainly easier for us."

Angus Eve, Trinidad and Tobago's captain, scored from an acute angle in the 89th minute on a shot that went in off Keller's arm to cut the U.S. lead in half and make for some nervous closing moments.

The Americans held on for the important road victory, however, and can now look ahead to games on the road against Mexico on March 27 and against Guatemala in Birmingham, Ala., March 30 with increased confidence.

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