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Notebook: Arena calm; Donovan debuts

By Matthew James Weeks, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON As U.S. men's soccer coach Bruce Arena softly answered media questions about his team's 3-2 loss to Honduras on Saturday at RFK Stadium, he calmly and repeatedly insisted that bumps on the road to qualification for the 2002 World Cup are to be expected. "We'll be fine," said Arena. "This is not an easy ride and we didn't expect it to be smooth. As you enter this competition, one has to believe that you need to play nine or 10 games before you qualify."

Saturday's game is the first time the U.S. has dropped a World Cup qualification match at home in 16 years a streak that spanned 19 matches (14-0-5) and began after a 1-0 loss to Costa Rica on May 31, 1985.

The loss to Honduras is also the second in a row for the hobbled Americans (4-2-1) in the grueling 10-game, six-country CONCACAF region qualifying round. The top three teams advance to next year's event in Japan/South Korea.

The Americans (13 points) are second in the region behind Costa Rica (16), which beat last-place Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday afternoon.

The national team, which was missing regular starters Claudio Reyna, Brian McBride, Josh Wolff and Clint Mathis because of injuries, doesn't have much time to collect itself. Next up for the U.S. is an important match against host Costa Rica on Wednesday.

"They are a very good team and very similar to Honduras, as far as strengths and weaknesses," Arena said.

Penalty kick haunts Stewart: Veteran midfielder Earnie Stewart put the U.S. ahead with his first goal in the 7th minute. And he tried to resuscitate the Americans with a second score in the 84th.

But a wasted opportunity to put the national team ahead at halftime is what Stewart will remember most.

With the score tied 1-1 in the 43rd minute, Stewart punched a penalty kick to the right side of the net. But Honduran goalie Noel Valladares read it perfectly. He lunged right and deflected the ball off his left hand as the many Honduran supporters in attendance roared in approval.

"I made up my mind to go to the left," a despondent Stewart said afterwards. "But I changed my mind.

"It was stupid."

Defense needs work: Saturday's loss was the first time the Americans allowed three goals in a home World Cup qualifier since a 3-3 tie with Mexico on Nov. 6, 1960. And the U.S. had allowed only two goals in their last nine qualifying matches entering the game.

Needless to say, Arena was not pleased with the performance of his defensive unit. He specifically pointed out David Regis.

"I do think that he broke down on a bunch of plays," Arena said. "I have to look at the tape, but he probably had a breakdown that led to every goal."

Honduras' first goal, which tied the match 1-1 in the 28th, was aided by a Regis miscue. The defender slipped while marking Carlos Pavon on the right side. Pavon quickly moved past Regis and made a unobstructed cross pass to a charging Milton Nunez, whose goal shook the national team's momentum.

Donovan makes first start in World Cup qualifier: When 19-year-old Landon Donovan trotted onto the field at RFK Stadium, a starter in a World Cup qualifier for the first time, the gifted forward for Major League Soccer's San Jose Earthquakes was awestruck by the enthusiasm generated from the crowd of 54,282 in the stands.

"Incredible," Donovan said. "Absolutely incredible. It was tremendous. I've never heard anything like it."

His debut was positive throughout the match. Donovan helped create Stewart's penalty kick in the 43rd when he shoved a pass to Jovan Kirovski, who was subsequently fouled inside the box. Donovan also excelled at one-touch passing and his speed created problems for the Honduran defenders on both sides of the field.

"At the end of the day, it's still another game," Donovan said. "But it was a great learning experience. I'll take a lot away from this game."

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