The Clean Sheet: T&T = Dynamite

a visit to the lovely, purified air of the Azteca Stadium, south of the 2-0 parallel.

Wednesday afternoon witnessed many good performances, but without a doubt my man of the match goes to none other than The Bruce.

You see, there were plenty of built-in excuses to lose this one long before a ball was kicked. Pick any one you want. A lack of training together after the labor problems? Absolutely. The fact that none of the MLS players were match fit and European-based guys like Brian McBride and Landon Donovan aren't getting games, either? Check. The oppressive heat? As we say in Minnesota, you betcha.

But Bruce Arena proved again why he took a gritty but ultimately average team to the World Cup quarterfinals -- he simply didn't buy into the excuses, and didn't let his team do so either. He and his staff just mapped out a game plan that put his team in position from the opening whistle to take the game to the home side. And that they did.

That game plan took it all into account: a patient and methodical style that would allow for the lack of fitness and eventual tiring in the day-time heat. A couple of big guns up front, exactly what you want when you know that stealing a goal on a header off a set piece or a cross may be enough to get out of there with three points. The team just looked patient and willing to weather whatever Trinidad would throw at them, while not exerting too much energy with countless forays into attack.

All in all, on a choppy field in a strange-looking venue with everything else that was working against them, the Yanks took a very impressive three points - and never looked like they were there to do anything but.

There were plenty of others who stood out. Obviously, we are witnessing a developing superstar in Eddie Johnson. You don't like to count your chickens and all, but the run this kid is on for the past season warrants the attention, and more. The most impressive thing about him (besides his club team)? He just keeps getting better. His goal was a sniper-like finish, but go back and watch how he continues to improve at holding the ball up and distributing. Now go back and look where he was 12-18 months ago. That, my friends, is what we call an upside.

And the latest Kasey Keller era began with some serious ups and downs. You have to feel confident with Kasey at the back, and he justified that with a solid 88 minutes.

However, on the week that Brad Friedel says he is retiring from the national team, Keller also was guilty of nothing short of a complete blunder. While the espn2 announcers didn't want to blame Keller, just look at his reaction after the ball goes in and you know what he knows: he had a nightmare on that one.

With Tim Howard unfortunately stuck on the bench at Manchester United and Marcus Hahnemann and Joe Cannon both great keepers (Hahnemann continues to keep Reading in the promotion hunt in Eng-er-land) but untested at this level, this is Keller's job to lose -- not something anyone would expect to happen.

But all in all, this was a dream start for the Americans. Everything against them (c'mon Dwight Yorke returning to the national team?), and they come away with not just a result, but three points. If you offered The Bruce two points from the first two matches, I gotta believe he would have taken it -- he always talks about how hard it is to get results away in this region.

Now his lads can take no less than three points back to The States from their first two matches, so anything in Mexico is gravy ... although that may be the nicest thing that gets thrown at the boys down there on March 27.

FLICK-ONS:

Was anyone else in footie heaven on Wednesday? I let my TiVo do the work during the day, didn't answer the phone or look on the internet, and got home not knowing a single score. As we all know, that is almost as impressive as a win in Trinidad.

But there I was, sitting on the couch Wednesday night, burgers fresh off the grill, telephone turned off, and a doubleheader of U.S.-Trinidad and England-Holland. Kids, it just don't get any better ...

We already talked about the Yanks, so let's touch on England-Holland. It was kind of the coming out party for the new look Fox Soccer Channel, and it gets a big thumbs-up here. Love the new look, and what a great match-up to get things started.

Unfortunately, the friendly didn't live up to expectations, although a debut appearance by the best English striker playing today, Crystal Palace's Andy Johnson, was enough to send me off happy.

And with apologies to orange-o-phile Jeff Bradley, I also happened to love the special black and white kit the Dutch were sporting.

Anyway, with the pre- and post-game wraps from the studio, it gave it a nice feel. A good start for the new-look network.

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Did you hear J.P. and Celo say they will be going to Spain to broadcast that Tsunami benefit game next Tuesday? Wow, look at ESPN ponying up for the footie!

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You never have a second chance to make a first impression (I love shampoo commercials), so well done to my boys down at FC Dallas for holding off on opening the new estadio until it is 100% ready to rock.

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Just got back from a little jaunt to Eng-er-land, where I took in three matches (Fulham-Villa, Man United-Birmingham and Chelsea-Man City), as well as a pint or two (hundred). I'll fill y'all in next week ... when I've completely recovered.

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs. Send any questions and comments to tcsresponses@yahoo.com.


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