GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany - Four years ago, the U.S. team woke up Americans to soccer with a stunning start and surprising run in the World Cup. This time, it opened with a thud.
Routed 3-0 by the Czech Republic on Monday night, the United States might have a very short tournament stay this year.
Czech giant Jan Koller scored just five minutes in and Tomas Rosicky added two goals as the Czechs coasted to an easy win.
"I'm very disappointed in our start," coach Bruce Arena said. "They punished us for every mistake we made."
Eager to prove they are among soccer's elite after their surprising quarterfinal finish in South Korea four years ago, the Americans brought their most talented team ever to this year's tournament. They even got a pregame pep talk from President Bush, who called from Camp David before the game and wished them well.
But they disappointed millions of fans back home and about 5,000 who made the trek to Germany, falling to 0-8 in Europe in World Cup play.
"We had a lot of guys who were in their first games and were a little bit nervous," captain Claudio Reyna said.
"Now there's no more excuses; we have to play better than that."
With the loss, the Americans put themselves in an extremely difficult hole - in the past two World Cups, the only team to advance from the first round after losing its opener was Turkey in 2002.
Next up for the United States is traditional power Italy on Saturday, followed by Ghana on June 22.
"You can't be hesitant," Reyna added. "You have to be aggressive from the first minute. There's no excuse, we have to come out fighting against Italy from the first minute."
Reyna came closest to scoring, hitting a post midway through the first half. But Rosicky scored on a soaring 25-yard shot in the 36th minute, and the Americans never got back into the game against the Czechs, semifinalists in the European Championship two years ago.
Rosicky hit the crossbar in the 68th and added a goal in the 76th minute, getting past the U.S. defense off a through pass from Pavel Nedved, Europe's 2003 player of the year, and beating Kasey Keller on a breakaway.
"The Rosicky goal was a great goal," Arena said. "To me the big play in the game was giving up the early goal."
Eddie Johnson, who entered at halftime, provided some energy, missing just wide in the 70th minute and high in the 76th.
"With all due respect, that's probably the best team in the group," Reyna said. "Italy's another tough team and it'll be another tough game, but we have to bounce back and put this game behind us and learn from it real quick."
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