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U.S. MEN'S NATIONAL TEAM

June 8, 2008
MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
Howard's 7 saves, outstanding performance keeps top-ranked Argentina scoreless

By Michael Lewis
BigAppleSoccer.com Editor

The United States' Clint Dempsey challenges Argentina's Lionel Messi for a ball.
The United States' Clint Dempsey challenges Argentina's Lionel Messi for a ball.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
East Rutherford, N.J. -- Tim Howard's heroics and outstanding saves in one of the most memorable performances by a U.S. National Team goalkeeper helped the Americans securing a surprising a scoreless tie with top-ranked Argentina in an international friendly before a crowd of 78,682 at Giants Stadium Sunday night.

It was the fourth largest soccer crowd at the stadium.

Howard, who played with the MetroStars (now the Red Bulls) from 1998-2003 before venturing to Europe, was credited with seven saves -- all in the first half.

The draw gave the 21st-ranked U.S. a 0-2-1 record on its three-game tour of top-ranked National Teams entering its World Cup qualifying series with Barbados next Sunday. The Americans play the Caribbean side in Carson, Calif. in the first leg of a total goals series.

"I think we're getting stronger," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "We're understanding what it takes to play the better teams. Even though Barbados is a different kind of opponent, I think we understand how to stick together as a team."

Howard said he had no doubts that the team is ready for qualifying.

"We played to a higher level tonight," he said. "If we do it against Barbados I am confident we can get the job done."

Howard stood on his head and then some when the U.S. had a shaky opening half. He denied Julio Cruz four times, including twice on a pair of bang-bang plays in the fifth minute.

"With Argentina, you know they're going to have their chances, no matter how well you're going to play defensively," Howard said. "Those chances seem to come, one on one. Looking at the way I play, it's probably one of my stronger points. I made the first save and I felt comfortable and tight."

Argentina, starting three forwards, threw everything it could at the Americans and Howard, who put on one of the most memorable goalkeeping clinics in U.S. history.

Using their guile, skill and flair, the Argentines put on an entertaining display of soccer in the early minutes of the opening half. The Americans had much difficulty keeping up with Argentina's brilliant passing and dribbling.

Howard was tested early and often as he was forced to make a pair of saves in the fifth minute.

After getting a lead pass from forward Sergio Aguero down the left wing, Cruz fired a shot that Howard managed to block with his foot. The rebound went to Cruz, whose next shot was parried by Howard over the crossbar for an Argentine corner kick.

It was a preview of what was to come.

Argentina came close again in the 17th minute as Gabriel Heinze headed Lionel Messi's long free kick from four yards over the crossbar.

Howard came up big again in the 28th minute. Messi fed an onrushing Cruz, who was denied by Howard about 10 yards out.

Slowly, but surely the U.S. regained its composure and started to possess the ball more to create some scoring chances of its own.

The Americans almost scored on a freak play in the 32nd minute when midfielder Clint Dempsey unleashed a 20-yard shot that deflected off Heinze and traveled just wide left of the net.

Three minutes later U.S. defender Heath Pearce got into the act with a 22-yard shot that goalkeeper Roberto Abbondanzieri knocked down and pounced on to the left of the net.

About 30 seconds later, midfielder Maximiliano Rodriguez sent a 24-yard shot straight to Howard, who had little problems catching the ball.

U.S. forward Eddie Johnson, off a right-wing cross from Dempsey, headed a 12-yard shot that Abbondanzieri denied in the 43rd minute.

Cruz tried one more time to solve Howard in the first half as he raced in on a breakaway during stoppage time. But the North Brunswick, N.J. native once again denied Cruz, who was left to raise his arms in frustration.

Howard and the U.S. were given a bit of a break as the second half started as Messi was replaced by Jose Sosa.

The Americans had a pair of opportunities early in the second half. Landon Donovan's weak shpot was knocked out of bounds for a corner kick in the 47th minute and a Oguchi Onyewu shot hit the crossbar in the 48th minute.

Argentina looked like it was finally going to solve Howard in the 52nd minute as cruz once against tried his luck on goal. He had little trouble getting past defender Danny Califf. But after his pass from the right flank to Aguero, Howard somehow managed to get to the ball first while the forward went flying. No foul was called by referee Joel Aguilar Chicas.

U.S. forward Eddie Johnson injured his leg left while taking a shot in the 67th minute. Johnson raced in on goal alone on the left side, but Abbodanzieri managed to knock the ball away. Johnson was taken off the field, but returned a couple of minutes later.

The Americans were forced to play the final about the final 15 minutes of the match a man down after midfielder Pablo Mastroeni was given his marching orders in the 71st minute as he received his second yellow card for dissent. He had incurred his first yellow in the 60th minute.

Despite the red card, the U.S. got stronger as the game wore on and dominated the final 15 minutes.

Argentina captain Javier Mascherano was slapped with his second yellow and his marching orders in the 86th minute after clipping Donovan on the ankle.
   
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