WASHINGTON -- Soccer diplomacy took center stage at RFK Stadium yesterday. Soccer artistry was noticeably absent.
North Korea, content to let the United States do most of the work, used a patient, yet speedy counterattack to hand a surprised U.S. side a 2-1 defeat in front of 16,351 fans, ending the Americans' eight-game unbeaten streak against opposing national teams.
The North Koreans were the first representatives of their nation to play in the United States in any sport. If conventional wisdom were to be believed, the Koreans were no match for the Americans.
"We took them for granted and we were burned," said American midfielder Bruce Murray, the Germantown resident and Maryland Bays player who scored the U.S. goal.
The U.S. defenders repeatedly missed their mark, as North Korean players often roamed free in the American penalty area. Furthermore, the United States, despite replacing a limping Janusz Michallik with Bruce Savage at halftime, found no one who could keep up with speedy right wing Choi Yong Son, whose efforts directly led to both Nroth Korean goals.
Choi's singular effort provided the game-winner in the 48th minute. Deep in the right corner, he took a 50-yard pass down the right sideline from Kim Gyong Il. Carrying toward the right post, he faked right, then went left around Marcelo Balboa, then launched an 8-yard shot past charging goalkeeper Tony Meola to register the final 2-1 margin.
"We were very tentative because we never knew anything about them," said defender Desmond Armstrong, a Maryland Bay from Columbia who has been with the national squad since late 1987. "We heard they were technically sound, but naive of the game at the world level. We had some problems [marking]. They started with three forwards, then dropped one back. It was a matter of rearranging positions. We didn't adjust properly."
In the game's 13th minute, Cho Yang Nam broke alone down the right side before crossing to Choi, whose 12-yard header from dead center was just tipped over the crossbar by a leaping Meola. But on the ensuing corner kick, North Korean team captain Eun Chong Su flicked a header to Liu Song Geun, whose 8-yard blast eluded an outstretched Meola, hit the right post and bounced directly to an open Eun, who had no trouble finding the empty net.
Murray tied the score 12 minutes later. Dominic Kinnear, screened from a long cross from Michallik from the left sideline, pushed defender Pang Kwang Chol. The ball hit the back of the bent-over Pang and caromed directly to the foot of Murray, who facing the right post, went far side with his 17th career goal, the most ever by a U.S. national player.
The United States maintained a large margin in time of possession, but the American attempts to set up attackers within scoring range were repeatedly intercepted or otherwise off target.