Coach says interest follows wins Finds U.S. fans like winning team SOCCER

August 18, 1993|By Bill Free | Bill Free,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Bashing Americans for their lack of interest in soccer is a favorite pastime, especially every four years when the World Cup takes center stage.

But yesterday, none other than U.S. National Team soccer coach Bora Milutinovic came to the defense of this country when he was given the opportunity to join the bashing.

"The most important thing is results," said the native of the former Yugoslavia. "If we get good results, we get good promotion of the game. The only thing Americans care about is being first. When we won the Gold Cup [1991], we got good promotions. This year, when we defeated England [2-0 in Foxboro, Mass.], we got good press."

Then, Milutinovic looked around the room at several photographers and said: "If we had a press conference like this two years ago, we might have been lucky to have one camera here."

Milutinovic was in town for the official announcement that the U.S. National Team will meet Mexico on Oct. 13 at RFK Stadium at 7:30 p.m.

The game will give the United States a chance to avenge a 4-0 loss to Mexico last July 25 in the Confederation of North America, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) Gold Cup championship game in Mexico City.

Milutinovic and U.S. officials were disappointed in the progress of the team as the 1994 World Cup competition grows nearer.

Four first-round World Cup games are set for RFK Stadium on June 19-20 and June 24-25. One game in the round of 16 is scheduled for RFK on July 2.

"Any time you lose 4-0, you can't be pleased with the progress of your team," said Milutinovic, who will be the first coach in World Cup history to lead national teams from three countries in three World Cups.

"We need more competitive games," he said. "Finishing second in the Gold Cup to Mexico was not that bad. Mexico is not only one of the best teams in South America, but one of the best teams in the world."

Milutinovic, who coached Mexico to a sixth-place finish in the 1986 World Cup and helped Costa Rica make it to the second round of the 1990 World Cup, said the October date with Mexico will be different from the game played before a raucous crowd of 120,000 last month in Mexico City.

"We'll be at home, and teams always feel confident at home," said Milutinovic.

Only one Maryland-area player, defender Desmond Armstrong, is left on the U.S. National team now that forward Jean Harbor has been dropped from the squad and midfielder Bruce Murray (Germantown) has signed with Millwall of the English First Division.

There is a slight possibility that Murray might return to the U.S. National Team, which begins training again Monday in Mission Viejo, Calif., after a four-week vacation.

Milutinovic said that Armstrong is "making a good effort and playing strong from his sweeper position, but effort is not always enough."

The coach said he hopes to have his World Cup roster finalized six to eight weeks before the start of the games.

* The World Cup buildup continues at RFK on Saturday at 2:30 p.m., when the Italian Soccer Super Cup is held outside Italy for the first time.

AC Milan, the 1993 Italian League champion, will meet Torino, the 1993 Italian Cup winner, in the annual clash of Italy's two top teams.

FACTS AND FIGURES

What: Italian Soccer Super Cup and U.S. National Team vs. Mexico

When: Italian Super Cup will be played Saturday at 2:30 p.m., and U.S. National team will play Mexico Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Both games at RFK Stadium

At stake: The Italian Super Cup, an annual match being held outside Italy for the first time, matches AC Milan, 1993 Italian League champion, against Torino, 1993 Italian Cup champion. The U.S. National Team will play Mexico.

Tickets: Italian Super Cup tickets are priced from $20 to $100 and are available through TicketMaster (all Hecht's) or call PhoneCharge at (410) 481-SEAT. U.S. National Team vs. Mexico tickets are priced at $12 through $50. For information, call (202) 223-8695.

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