U.S. men out in soccer after tie with Portugal Americans have never made it past 1st round

Atlanta Olympics

July 25, 1996|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The United States maintained its men's soccer perfection in the Olympic Games last night.

Eleven appearances, 11 exits after the first round.

As coach Bruce Arena said afterward, they went down fighting, but a 1-1 tie in a must-win situation against Portugal wasn't enough to lift the U.S. team out of Group A. The visitors needed only the draw to advance, and they were more conservative than Rush Limbaugh. The U.S. team had a 21-10 advantage in shots and a 16-6 bulge in corner kicks.

The game was not witnessed by President Clinton, as was anticipated, but the organizers said the crowd of 58,012 was the largest ever for a sports event at RFK Stadium.

Portugal (1-0-2) and Argentina (2-0-1), which raced past the U.S. team, 3-1, Saturday, moved onto the quarterfinals. The U.S. record of 1-1-1 wasn't enough to advance.

The only win for the Americans came Monday against Tunisia in Alabama. They then boarded a charter flight and arrived here early Tuesday morning, and their fatigue showed at times against a Portuguese side that spent the entire first round at RFK.

The U.S. team was undone by a failed offsides trap in the 33rd minute, but the troubles for the Americans began long before that.

Slow to take advantage of the exposure it gained in the 1994 World Cup, U.S. Soccer didn't get its First Division pro league off the ground until this year. The Olympics are an under-23 competition, and all but a handful of Americans have moved up through the collegiate ranks, while the rest of the world has played professionally at a tender age.

"Our kids came up through college, while [Portugal's] have experience with Benfica and Lisbon, some of the best clubs in the world," U.S. goalie Kasey Keller said.

Alexi Lalas, like Keller another over-age American and maybe the most marketable player in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer, agreed.

"In Spain [after the 1992 Olympics], I was up on this podium wondering if I'd ever even play again," Lalas said. "The young players on this team will have more opportunities than I had."

They'll rue several missed opportunities against a banged-up Portugal team that was missing two starters.

It started with Jovan Kirovski's missed header in the third minute. After Paulo Alves got the Portugal goal, the American charge intensified. A.J. Wood and Brian Maisoneuve whiffed on a pretty cross from Frankie Hejduk. Even Claudio Reyna, the other over-age player, missed on a volley from a cross by Kirovski in the 61st minute.

Finally, with less than 16 minutes left, Maisoneuve carried down the right side and crossed to Wood, whose goal only brought in even more Portuguese defenders.

Pub Date: 7/25/96

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