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USA gets kick out of its kids

By Joseph D'Hippolito, special for USA TODAY

PASADENA, Calif. If Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were watching the U.S. national men's soccer team during the Gold Cup, they might say the kids are more than all right.

Forward Landon Donovan and midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, both 19, have given the most impressive performances of any American going into Sunday's quarterfinal against El Salvador at the Rose Bowl.

The pair have played a role in all three of the USA's goals in the tournament. Donovan and Beasley scored in the 2-1 win against South Korea, and Beasley drew a foul that resulted in a penalty kick and a 1-0 victory vs. Cuba.

Moreover, they bring dynamism and discipline to an offense that often sputters.

"Their composure on the ball has been outstanding," says U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who also is impressed with "their sense of security on the field relative to their age and experience."

Beasley and Donovan have combined for 16 games with the national team, only five for Beasley. But the pair have played 57 games together on various U.S. squads from the under-17 level.

"We have a pretty good chemistry on the field," says Beasley, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind. "We kind of know what each one likes and what we're trying to do. It makes us a lot more comfortable."

"Off the field, we're pretty close, too," Donovan says. "It's easy to relate to someone going through the same things. You can see that relationship shows on the field."

Donovan earned the Golden Ball as the most valuable player of the under-17 world championships in 1999 and signed a contract with German power Bayer Leverkusen that year.

But his return to the USA proved to be a turning point.

MLS acquired Donovan on loan last year and assigned him to the San Jose Earthquakes. After playing sparingly in Germany, Donovan had seven goals and a team-leading 10 assists to help San Jose win the MLS Cup.

"I had never played an extended professional season," says Donovan, of Redlands, Calif. "That's just what turns you into a professional."

Beasley experienced a similar surge in 2001. He started 24 games for the Chicago Fire and scored his first two professional goals after being a starter just 11 times in 2000.

"It's good to get that kind of experience early," Beasley says. "My confidence in going at players and being more aggressive has grown. That's what Bruce is trying to instill in a lot of our attacking players."

Though Arena is cautious about the pair's development, he is enthusiastic about their potential.

"Usually with young players, they're very much up and down," he said.

"These two have been fairly consistent. We need to be smart about how they're brought along. But they're on an upswing constantly, and we don't see them crashing anywhere."

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