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Final

The Clean Sheet: Yanks march on

In one of the few non-televised U.S. national team games these days, the Yanks put a 3-0 spanking on Colombia on Wednesday night. An MLS All-Star team put on a nice show in front of a fun crowd, and since most of you couldn't see the match, here are some notes, thoughts and musings from yet another win for The Bruce's lads:

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Yes, the performance of this team in essence meant little, as the side that goes south of the 2-0 parallel will consist chiefly of match-fit, foreign-based players. However, the 3-0 drubbing again brings to light an important point -- this coaching staff has instilled a habit of winning in this program, and the players and the fans are beginning to settle for nothing less.

Whether it is a home friendly against a pesky CONMEBOL side or a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on the road, the U.S., more often than not, is expected to get a result now. The Colombia win runs the Yanks' streak to 15 on the trot without a loss. The habit of winning under The Bruce has had a domino effect, as in the past, a call-up to the national team meant a few bucks in the pocket and a chance to be part of a group that would do whatever it took to struggle for a result.

These days, a call-up means you better raise your game to the level of a World Cup quarterfinalist, a team that is considered the best in the region and no longer a push-over anywhere. To be a regular on this team, you have to bring something to the table that will help the squad get wins, whenever and wherever the next match is.

And Wednesday night showed that if the regulars don't perform, there are players waiting in the wings, and many of them young enough that their best football is very much ahead of them. From Eddie Johnson to Clint Dempsey to Chad Marshall, there is a nice little pool of guys that will be pushing to be regular starters before too long.

Again, the Colombia match was nothing more than a chance to look at some domestic players and more importantly, get these guys some match fitness, as some of the domestic boys will make the March 27 squad. However, I can't help but also see it as another win by a program that has become a winner, a habit that just feeds off itself as the players must keep getting better if they want to be a part of the ride.

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I know I am starting to sound like I am on his payroll, but I just like watching Clint Mathis play soccer. The guy is not just a sniffer, but really is not afraid to dare to be great at times. With about a half-hour left Wednesday night, Pat Noonan crossed a ball to Mathis near the top of the box, and rather than chesting it down, Cleetus picked it out of the air with a vicious volley. Had the drive not been deflected by a defender, the Colombians would've been picking a brilliant goal out of their net.

Cleetus also had a nice night serving up dead balls, and was rewarded on the USA's third goal, when his corner kick ended up in the Colombians' goal. He was credited with the goal, and while it actually appeared to be an own goal, a combination of no replays and a little home cooking means RSL's sniper can claim it.

While we all wonder if he is going to produce all season long for John Ellinger, he still is one of the guys I would be happy to lay down a few bucks to watch play.

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Taylor Twellman just can not get it right with the national team. The New Eng-er-land gunner was sent off about 10 minutes after coming on as a substitute. You get the feeling it just might never happen for him at this level.

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This just in: Eddie Johnson missed what was basically a sitter for him about six minutes in, and the world did not end. Brian Mullan whipped in a nice cross from the right flank, and Johnson's header went, um, a bit wide ... of the corner flag. But while he did not score, he still did a nice job of holding the ball up at times and bringing teammates into the attacking movements.

The kid continues to look the part of growing into a big-time striker if he keeps his head on straight. Not that I have seen too many alarming signs of this yet, but my fear with Eddie is that he finds some early success this season and starts to get too comfortable or too cute. He just needs to keep working on his game and keep things simple when he plays the ball. Hopefully, getting to spend a good amount of time in national team camps with Brian McBride will help hammer home how playing simple and decisive soccer can make you a superstar.

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Wednesday was my first time at Fullerton's Titan Stadium, the house that Alexi Lalas built. My image of that place previously was from after the Galaxy won the U.S. Open Cup, when Alexi ran all over that huge hill behind one of the goals. FYI, the grass on the hill today looks as un-cropped as Alexi's hair used to before he became Mr. Big Time GQ-GM guy.

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Not just because he scored on his debut, but Chad Marshall is growing on me. To be fair, I thought he was a little overrated at such an early stage in his career last season, but he is growing on me and it was nice to see him earning his first of what many think will be several caps.

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Seeing the diminutive Jon Busch run out behind the rest of the starting XI after halftime, I couldn't help but think of a doofy little brother chasing after his big brother and his friends ... "c'mon guys, can I play? Pleeease?" Congrats to the Crew 'keeper on a clean sheet in his debut -- that's a big W for us short guys.

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Good to see Arena blood four guys tonight, as in addition to Busch and Marshall, Nat Borchers and Richie Kotschau made their national team debuts. Speaking of blood, the US Soccer website has a pretty funny video of the boys going to a clinic to get some blood work done ... worth a look.

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What I liked: Clint Dempsey's buzz cut, signaling the grunge era is officially over.

What I really liked: Dempsey showing no inhibitions about taking on defenders several times. Not sure what his best position is, but if this kid keeps developing he's gonna be fun to watch.

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I'll leave you with this, from Queen of the Palace, on Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez: "Wow, he really does look like a vampire. If you look like that, why the heck would you slick your hair back?"

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet. 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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