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The Inside Track | SOCCER GRAHAME L. JONES

Dunivant's Stock Rises in U.S. Rout of Norway

January 30, 2006|GRAHAME L. JONES

Don't bother asking, here are the answers ...

Better. Much better. That's what the U.S. looked like Sunday afternoon at the Home Depot Center, where the Americans' final Southern California appearance before the World Cup produced a 5-0 victory over a lethargic Norway.

Perhaps the Norwegians were not used to seeing the sun in January. Whatever the reason, they blinked and the U.S. flashed past.

With three Galaxy players in his starting lineup and a fourth coming off the bench, Coach Bruce Arena's team looked sharper than it had in a dreary 0-0 tie with Canada in San Diego a week earlier.

Then, the only thing noteworthy was the performance by the U.S. fans, whose chants of "stick to hockey" rained down on the Canadians, while the American players also were reminded by shouts from the crowd that it was Canada that had inflicted Celine Dion upon the world.

The fans in Carson on Sunday were not quite as vocal, or at least not as biting in their commentary, but they did see several U.S. players make a strong claim to be taken to Germany this summer.

Not least of them was Galaxy left back Todd Dunivant, who turned in a near-flawless 90 minutes in his debut for the U.S.

Dunivant, from Stanford, even produced the free kick that led to the second U.S. goal, by Taylor Twellman, and the pass that led to the third goal, by Eddie Pope.

As debuts go, it was memorable, albeit against a feeble foe.

"Fantastic," Landon Donovan said. "He played very well. It'll be interesting, if he gets another chance playing against a little better competition, to see how he does.

"It wasn't easy on the back four, but they didn't have guys running at them, they weren't on their heels a lot. But credit to them, they had good starting spots, so they made it easy on themselves. He played well."

The U.S. has a problem at left back, and that problem could be Dunivant's big opportunity.

Arena probably will start Eddie Lewis in the role in Germany, although Frankie Hejduk, Carlos Bocanegra, Bobby Convey, Heath Pearce and Chris Albright are all in the mix.

And now Dunivant as well.

Of all the candidates for the position, the 25-year-old is the only left-footed player, the only one comfortable there, the only logical choice if he can be turned into an international-caliber player in the five months remaining before Germany '06.

There is precedent for a player starting in the World Cup after not having taken part in any of the two years' worth of qualifying competition. Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni did it at Korea/Japan '02.

So Dunivant has a chance. He just has to grab it.

Or rather, he has to be given the chance to grab it. Arena should start him in all eight remaining warmup games before June. Or at least in the five that remain before Arena picks his team in April.

"Absolutely," Donovan said. "Todd's realistic. He knows where he stands. But that being said, if you get your chance and you do well, then you make it hard on Bruce."

Arena was more than satisfied with Dunivant's debut.

"I think defensively he was rock-solid today," he said. "He did a pretty good job getting into good spots in terms of giving us possession of the ball.

"I think it's something new for him. We're asking a little bit more out of our outside backs than they're accustomed to at the club level. But I think Todd's a good player and he showed well. Hopefully, he can build on today's performance.

"Overall, I thought it was a good performance."

Dunivant, the only player to appear in every minute of every match last season as the Galaxy won the Major League Soccer championship, said the butterflies were there but not in force.

"I was a little bit nervous starting off," he said, "but it helps when you get a goal [as Twellman did for the U.S. did in the fifth minute] and you kind of get your feet under you and get those first few touches out of the way. When you get those goals early, it takes a lot of the pressure off."

Norway's lackluster effort played into U.S. hands.

"There was a lot of space for us" to exploit, Dunivant said. "We knew that flank play was going to be important to open things up, and Frankie and I really got at them in the first half and I think that opened the game up for us."

Dunivant's confidence was so high that he even was able to talk Donovan into allowing him to take the free kick that led to Twellman's second goal.

"We had a little talk about it, but he deferred," Dunivant said. "It was a situation where we wanted to get the in-swingers in there [balls that curve in toward the net]. I just tried to put it in a good spot and Taylor, that's what he does well -- get into goal-scoring positions. He headed it right home."

How much did Sunday help his World Cup prospects?

"I don't know," Dunivant said. "I'm just going to keep taking it one game at a time. I was happy with how it went today, so hopefully I'll get another opportunity and take that as well."

Does he need to play every game from here on out to have a shot?

"I don't know," he said. "That's something for Bruce to decide. If he gives me the nod again, I'll be happy to take the opportunity. I think that's what it's all about, just taking the opportunities that are given to you.

"It was a good start today and hopefully it continues."

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