U.S. Team wins Cup qualifier

Alex Yannis
Date Published: 
New York Times

The United States gave more strong evidence yesterday afternoon to justify the feeling that it has joined Mexico in becoming a superior soccer force in the North and Central America and Caribbean region.

The Americans have discarded two World Cup qualifying rivals in the span of a week and they have done it convincingly.

Playing with confidence and authority, the United States defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 2-0, Sunday in a World Cup qualifying game, seven days after manhandling a difficult Guatemala team by the same score in Washington.

Goals by Thomas Dooley in the 52nd minute and Eric Wynalda in the 84th gave the Americans the victory before a crowd of 19,312.

The two victories have made the Americans the front-runners to advance in their group, which also includes Costa Rica. Two of the four countries will advance to the final qualifying round in the region with four other nations, and three out of that group will represent the region in the 1998 World Cup in France.

"I remember the days we were elated with a tie," said the captain, John Harkes, reminding himself of the 40 years it took the Americans to qualify for the World Cup, which they accomplished in 1990 with a victory in Trinidad and Tobago the year before. "Now, we talk about how many goals we're going to score."

But Harkes and several others did not overestimate their commanding position in the region.

"We need to stamp ourselves as one of the better teams in the hemisphere," said Hank Steinbrecher, the executive director and secretary general of the U.S. Soccer Federation. "I think we've proved that we're a force in the region, but only if we make it to France can we really make that claim."

In their victory Sunday afternoon, the Americans played like the team that justified its ranking of 25th in the world and second to Mexico in the region by FIFA, the world governing body of soccer. The few flaws the Americans showed in their defense against Guatemala were corrected well Sunday afternoon.

Dooley and Alexi Lalas, who had their problems against Guatemala, played very well, but Coach Steve Sampson deserves part of the credit for putting Eddie Pope alongside them. He had given Pope permission to attend classes at the University of North Carolina before the game against Guatemala.

Although he was making his debut with the World Cup team, Pope played like a veteran. He combined with Lalas to mark Trinidad and Tobago's two most dangerous strikers very effectively. Lalas marked Dwight Yorke, who plays for Aston Villa in England, and Pope marked Jerren Nixon, who plays for FC Zurich in Switzerland.

Dooley scored the first goal for the Americans by heading a corner kick from the right by Jeff Agoos, who had a marvelous game at both ends of the field.

The Americans applied plenty of pressure after Dooley's goal. Their transition from defense to offense was fluid and precise, but did not seal their victory until Wynalda's blistering shot from the top of the penalty area sailed under the plunge of goalkeeper Hayden Thomas.

Wynalda's goal was the 27th of his career and ninth in 11 games this year, the most in the world by a player in international games. Wynalda was closely marked because of his scoring prowess, but he still found space to create chances for himself and teammates.