BETHLEHEM, Pa. -- All in all, it was perfect. Four Olympic qualifying games. Four victories.
The latest was yesterday's 3-0 shutout of archrival Mexico yesterday, a win that guaranteed the U.S. soccer team a spot in the Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, this July.
The event was watched by 13,927 fans at cozy Goodman Stadium on the Lehigh University campus. The crowd was the largest to witness a U.S. Olympic soccer qualifying game.
As the Americans took a bow and ran a victory lap, the crowd waved small U.S. flags and chanted "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" "I can't put into words how this feels," said forward Steve Snow of Schaumburg, Ill., who scored two of the three U.S. goals. "It's just the most incredible feeling. All these people, and we're going to the Olympics knowing we can play with anyone."
As Snow finished talking, 10-year-old Raymond Colligan of Dover Plains, N.Y., asked him for the tape supporting his left ankle.
"You really want this tape?" asked Snow, who had scored both goals with his left foot. He unwound the tape, autographed it and handed it to Colligan.
"This is absolutely amazing," Snow said, smiling. "This is absolutely the greatest thing we've ever done.
"This crowd made us feel so good. The place was rocking."
Many here said that this U.S. team marks the birth of new era in American Soccer.
"The performance of this team is sending a message to the rest of the world that the sleeping giant is beginning to stir," said Hank Steinbrecher, the executive director of the United States Soccer Federation.
When the United States shows up in Barcelona this summer, said Snow, "We won't be considered the underdog any more. Even in the Olympics, it won't be an upset if we get to the medal round."
For at least four decades, Mexico has been the North American soccer power. It wasn't until last month that the U.S. finally managed to beat Mexico in Mexico City. Yesterday's victory gave the U.S. its first sweep.
"It is different playing the United States now," said Mexico midfielder Jorge Castaneda. "Before it was like they had never practiced, like they didn't think it was important. Now that is not so. Now they believe in themselves and they play hard."
Yesterday, the action was certainly hard. It was an emotional and physical game, and the Americans showed a style of their own, capitalizing on swift counter attacks out of the midfield area.
The first goal came when the ball was suddenly lofted to a streaking Claudi Reyna down the far sidelines. Reyna stayed with it and played a beautiful cross to Snow, who was running through the far side of the box.
Mexico's goalkeeper, Miguel Fuentes, moved toward the ball, but Snow got off a sliding, left-footed shot that went under Fuentes and into the net.
Suddenly, the U.S. led 1-0, in this game that Mexico had to win, to take the pressure off its own chances for making the Olympics.
Besides the U.S., one other team will qualify from the North American region. With two games left, the last position is up for grabs among Mexico, Canada and Honduras.
"The United States has two things it uses very well," said Mexico coach Gayetano Rodriquez. "One is speed. Two is precision. The way they handle both of those, they will go very far. Today, they were much better than we were all the way around."
Chris Henderson made it 2-0 with 9:16 left in the first half, when he ran into the box and met a perfect pass from Cobi Jones right in front of the net.
Snow added the third goal with 12:54 left in the game, after Fuentes was ejected for taking Jones down near the box.
"Everyone is on cloud nine," said Steinbrecher. "This is a great day for us. A historic day -- to qualify for the Olympics in the optimum amount of time and to do it against the team that has been our nemesis forever."