OAKLAND, Calif. -- Considering the scene, it looked as if the United States' trade embargo against Cuba had been lifted.
U.S. defender Thomas Dooley stripped off his jersey and gave it to Cuban forward Lester More-Minninghon as they walked off the Oakland Coliseum field last evening.
The scene repeated itself moments later while the U.S. players were soaking up their 3-0 win after the CONCACAF Gold Cup opening-round match.
"One [Cuban] guy came into our locker room and wanted my jersey, so I gave it to him," U.S. forward Eric Wynalda said. "They couldn't exchange their jerseys, though. They only have two for the tournament."
With their countries' political rift put aside, the Americans and Cubans both accomplished their objectives in their first meeting since 1949.
The United States got the result it wanted to begin the last important international tournament before this summer's World Cup in France. And the Cubans got a chance to showcase their game on an international level, proving their country can produce some quality players.
"The major impact of this game [and] this tournament was to show how much Cuban soccer has improved over the years," said Cuban coach William Bennett, whose team is ranked 88th in the world by FIFA. "We have a lot of talent, but we need to play more."
The Cubans played so well that a U.S. victory wasn't assured until second-half goals by Roy Wegerle, Joe-Max Moore and Wynalda.
Playing on U.S. soil for the first time in its four previous meetings against American national teams, the Cuban players relished their chance to play a World Cup qualifier at a large venue. The 11,234 who braved wet weather showed their appreciation also, many applauding the Cuban national anthem and some displaying the Cuban flag.
Cuba was outshot 22-11. But with the game scoreless, More-Minninghon nearly put Cuba ahead on a 10-yard shot that was tipped off the crossbar by U.S. goalie Brad Friedel in the 53rd minute.
The United States broke through Cuba's defensive blockade 10 minutes into the second half when Wegerle scored for the fourth time in four games.
Cuba nearly answered three minutes later, but Eduardo Cebranco's shot clanked off the right post. That set up a U.S. counterattack, which Wynalda capped off with a 58th-minute goal for a 2-0 lead.
Wynalda, who raised his all-time-leading U.S. goal total to 32, nearly had a hat trick if not for a couple unlucky breaks.
A 59th-minute shot hit the crossbar while a potential goal in the sixth minute was waved off by an offside call. Television replays refuted the penalty as Wynalda looked 6 yards onside when John Harkes centered the ball from the right wing.
"The first goal that was taken away from us affected us for 15 to 20 minutes afterward," said U.S. coach Steve Sampson, whose team faces Costa Rica on Sunday.
Moore was rewarded for an outstanding game at midfield with a 75th-minute penalty kick, which he made for a 3-0 lead.
Pub Date: 2/02/98