World Cup-bound U.S. savors some breathing room

This is a luxury the United States wants to savor now that a World Cup berth is secure _ time to rest and fine-tune its roster. "The goal now is to make our team better for the World Cup," coach Bruce Arena said. The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 Saturday to assure themselves a fifth straight spot in the World Cup with three qualifying games to spare. The team can now rest its regulars and fill out its roster starting with Wednesday's game in Guatemala. A light workout is planned for Monday in Columbus before the trip to Central America. The victory allowed the Americans to avenge the lone blemish on the team's record in the final round of qualifying.

Steve Ralston and Damascus Beastly scored five minutes apart and goalkeeper Casey Keller notched his 50th international win. Keller hasn't surrendered a goal in World Cup qualifying since a 2-1 loss in Mexico City in April. "To be able to shut them up at the beginning of the second half by getting two goals and just kind of seeing the game out comfortably was fantastic," Keller said.

Keller and most other national team members who play with European clubs most likely won't suit up for the Guatemala game or the final two qualifiers. Instead, Arena said he would give minutes to MLS players and others who haven't seen as much international time as he pares the roster from what is considered the deepest talent pool the U.S. program has had. "I think it gives the coach a real chance to look at some other players in games that matter," defender Gregg Berhalter said.

One question to be settled on the U.S. roster is that of backup goalkeeper. "We're bringing three goalkeepers to the World Cup, and I want to be one of them," said Marcus Hahnemann, who plays for Reading in the English Premier League and is one of four players besides Keller to have played in goal for the U.S. this year.

Two years ago, Manchester United's Tim Howard could have given Keller a run for the starting job. But Howard has fallen out of favor with the English club and hasn't made any recent appearances for the United States. Arena was pleased with the play of his four defenders against Mexico, but the back line remains to be sorted out, especially the outside spots. Berhalter, Standard Liege's Oguchi Onyewu and veteran Eddie Pope _ when healthy _ are mainstays in the middle.

Frankie Hejduk, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra have experience. Chad Marshall and Chris Albright have seen considerable action of late. Pablo Mastroeni, Eddie Lewis, Jimmy Conrad and Bobby Convey can be deployed at midfield and defense. Forwards Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan and midfielder Clint Dempsey, teammates with the New England Revolution, could have trouble finding room on the team that goes to Germany, AP reports.

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