1-1 tie leaves U.S. pointing out positives

June 19, 1994|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,Sun Staff Writer

PONTIAC, Mich. -- The Americans were optimistic because they really had no other choice.

A 1-1 tie with Switzerland?

"The only difference is that we're missing two points," said U.S. defender Alexi Lalas. "We came here thinking we were going to get three with a win. We got only one with a tie, but we're still alive."

And a little embarrassed.

U.S. forward Eric Wynalda scored on a free kick in the 45th minute yesterday to salvage some respect in what was supposed to be American soccer's coming-out party.

A pro-American crowd of 77,557 witnessed the first World Cup game played indoors on real grass as U.S. soccer officials tried almost every trick to inspire their team.

The theme songs from "Rocky" and "Star Wars" were played during the opening ceremonies, as was Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA." American flags were draped from the rafters. Fans chanted "USA, USA," trying to recreate the atmosphere of another famed underdog winner, the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team in Lake Placid, N.Y.

And what better place than Detroit, home of Motown, Tigers baseball and Chevrolet.

"We are not a team looking to tie a game," said U.S. midfielder/forward Cobi Jones, sipping down water after playing on a surface that reached 91 degrees and 74 percent humidity. "Everyone goes out to win, and the crowd gave us an even bigger lift.

"A lot of us will say it was positive to come out of the game with a tie, because it would have been disastrous if we had lost."

According to most experts, this was the game the U.S. had to win because Switzerland was the weakest team in Group A, which also includes Colombia and Romania. Switzerland's last appearance in the World Cup was 1966.

The United States probably will need a win and a tie to advance.

"There was a lot of pressure on us, and I thought we handled the pressure well," said U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola. "It was the first game. Plus, we're trying not to be the first host team not to advance to the second round. And then we're carrying the burden of having to do well to create a soccer boom in this country. That's a lot."

Thank goodness for Wynalda.

It was only two days ago that his body became covered with hives as a result of some type of food allergy.

Wynalda had an upset stomach before yesterday's game, and doubted if he would play.

But when Swiss midfielder Ciriaco Sforza brought down John Harkes, it was Wynalda who converted the free kick, a perfectly placed, 28-yard shot that curved and barely made it over the right hand of goalie Marco Pascolo and scraped the bottom of the cross bar.

"I did not sleep last night, and I am not feeling like a bed of roses," said the 6-foot-1, 172-pound Wynalda, from Fullerton, Calif. "Fortunately, we practice this a lot. To be honest, I was almost in disbelief. I didn't know how to react after it went it. The shot had to be perfect. It was the greatest goal of my life."

Said Swiss coach Roy Hodgson: "That goal was demoralizing. A 1-1 tie halftime score is a lot different than 1-0. If we have 1-0 lead at the the half, I think we win the game."

Nearly six minutes before Wynalda's goal, U.S. midfielder Thomas Dooley pulled down midfielder Alain Sutter. Swiss midfielder Georges Bregy then curled the free kick over the wall and into the net from the edge of the penalty area.

Bregy's goal was the only time that Meola appeared to be out of position. Meola moved to his right on the kick, but Bregy's kick went to the far post.

"Right before the official was about to start play, I tried to tell Lalas to move, but he didn't hear me," said Meola. "I tried to compensate by holding my position, and I never saw the ball until it was four yards from me."

But Meola made five other great saves, 12 for the game, as Lalas and fellow defender Cle Kooiman seemed a step slow. U.S. defender Marcelo Balboa played well, doubling on the free players once Kooiman and Lalas fell behind.

Wynalda's goal seemed to inspire the United States, which was more offensive minded in the second half. But overall, the U.S. played way too much defense.

"What we know now is that we can play offense, and we're hoping to build on what we showed in the second half," said Jones. "We're not in the shape we wanted to be in after Game 1, but we're not real far down, either."

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