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Scorer Donovan passed over in favor of defense in opener

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) He's young, he's confident and he's being groomed as ''The'' American goalscorer, but Landon Donovan couldn't force his way into the U.S. starting lineup for Wednesday's Olympic opener.

The 18-year-old Donovan has a knack for scoring goals but he was left on the substitutes' bench as U.S. coach Clive Charles bolstered defense for the first match against the Czech Republic.

The Olympic soccer tournament kicks off with eight men's and women's matches in four cities Wednesday, two days before the opening ceremony of the Sydney 2000 Games.

Despite missing the opening kick, Donovan is expected to make his mark as an impact player off the bench.

''Landon will be seeing action this week,'' Charles said. ''If he's going to play, he's got to make an impact.''

Donovan is already making an impact at training with the under-23 Olympic squad.

After firing a goal in practice Tuesday, the 5-foot-8, 148-pound teen-ager dropped to his knees and pulled his shirt over his head in a remake of Brandi Chastain's goal celebration in the women's World Cup.

''That's just for fun, you know,'' said Donovan, an admirer of the women's team's success.

''When we win a gold medal I guess we'll get the credit,'' he said. ''They're great girls and they deserve everything they get. If we can be there with them, it'll be great too.''

At 16, Donovan became one of the youngest players in U.S. history to sign a professional contract overseas. He said he isn't putting any limits on his Olympic campaign.

''I came here to enjoy it,'' he said. ''I would hope to play every minute; if not I'll make the most of every minute I get.''

Donovan already has been called up for the national men's team and has scored six goals in nine games for the under-20s this year.

And that comes after finishing his under-17 career with 35 goals and 16 assists in 41 internationals, capping it with the Golden Ball award for the No. 1 player at the FIFA under-17 world championship in New Zealand.

Part of Charles' decision to bench Donovan could have been due to concerns about his age and size against the taller and more physical Czech team.

He also opted against risking further injury to defender Brian Dunseth, choosing to give the captain time to recover from a nagging groin injury and elevating Danny Califf to fill the void.

As expected, Charles named Liverpool goalkeeper Brad Friedel, a veteran of the 1992 Olympics and the 1994 and '98 World Cups, as part of a seasoned rearguard, including Jeff Agoos and Frankie Hejduk.

Having advanced through the tough European qualifiers, the Czech Republic is regarded among the top four teams in the tournament.

Petr Fousek, head of the Czech Republic delegation, said the Czechs are hoping to repeat their gold medal-winning form at their last Olympic outing when, competing as Czechoslovakia, they won at Moscow in 1980.

''The U.S. is a very difficult game,'' he said. ''The opening game of the tournament also is every time the key point.''

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