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U.S. defense as questionable as its leader

PRETORIA, South Africa — Instead of worrying where the goals are going to come from, this U.S. soccer team's biggest concern is keeping the ball out of its own net.

The Americans scored seven times total in three warmup matches the past few weeks, against the Czech Republic, Turkey and Australia.

While the offense was flowing, the backline was inconsistent, allowing six goals, including four to the Czechs.

"I think it's coming together quite well," D Oguchi Onyewu said. "That's why we've been in camp for so long, you know, just to get the communication and get the chemistry down."

Heading into Saturday's World Cup opener against England, Onyewu might be the biggest question. The 6-foot-4 defensive anchor tore his left patellar tendon Oct. 14 during a qualifier against Costa Rica and had surgery a week later.

Onyewu never made it back to play a league match for Italian club AC Milan but returned for the U.S. team May 25 against the Czechs. He played 65 minutes and was beaten to a header by Tomas Sivok for the first Czech goal. Onyewu entered as a sub in the other two friendlies.

"I'm personally feeling better since the camp started a couple, a few weeks ago," said Onyewu, who hasn't gone 90 minutes in a match since Oct. 10. If he can't go the distance, Clarence Goodson could be paired with Jay DeMerit in central defense against the English.

PLACING BLAME: The Nigerian federation said it had no choice of venue for Sunday's exhibition against North Korea at which a stampede left 15 people injured. Taiwo Ogunjobi, Nigeria's technical committee chairman, told website kickoff.com that "that was the only venue available to us" because "FIFA had taken control of all the stadia." One policeman was seriously hurt in two separate fan rushes outside Johannesburg at Makhulong Stadium, which isn't a World Cup venue. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the organization regretted the incident, adding that he called on police to do a better job. Thousands gathered outside the stadium after roughly 10,000 tickets were given away free, and police could not cope with the rush.

IVORY COAST: Star Didier Drogba rejoined training camp in Switzerland with a cast protecting his broken right arm. Team spokesman Eric Kacou said it was not known when Drogba can resume training or if he will play in the World Cup.

MEXICO: D Rafael Marquez trained for the first time since injuring his right leg in last week's 2-1 exhibition victory over Italy.

EXHIBITIONS: England looked unimpressive but won 3-0 over a South African league team. … Robinho scored twice to lead Brazil past host Tanzania 5-1 in Dar Es Salaam.

Largesse out of fashion

World Cup organizers put more than 30,000 unsold premium tickets on sale after businesses such as Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Nationwide Building Society decided not to send staff and clients. Holders will get access to areas normally reserved for sponsors and partners. The global financial crisis, location and security concerns have led businesses such as RBS and Nationwide, the sponsor of England's national team, to cut spending on trips.

Every day is flag day

Street vendors in Johannesburg are out in force selling flags from all 32 countries in the tournament. Nathan Murindagamo, 24, an unemployed South African making money selling flags on the streets, said the top sellers behind the host nation are Brazil, the Netherlands, Spain and Portugal.

U.S. defense as questionable as its leader 06/07/10 [Last modified: Monday, June 7, 2010 10:58pm]
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