U.S. men, Scotland perform to form, 0-0 46,037 are witnesses for defense in final tuneup

May 31, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The book on Scotland was great defense, no offense. The book on the U.S. national team was solid defense, look-good but no-finish offense.

The wish by both World Cup-bound teams: get past one another yesterday at RFK Stadium -- the last friendly stop before France -- injury-free.

Result: Scotland 0, United States 0. Mission accomplished. Even so, it was an often entertaining match in front of 46,037 on an 88-degree day that created no new pages in the "book" on either team for their first-round opponents in two weeks.

If nothing else was decided, at least this was: U.S. coach Steve Sampson said afterward that the 22 players on his squad now are the 22 he'll take to France. He had been toying with the idea of bringing in one or two alternates because of injuries.

The game also won the Americans a strong compliment from Scottish coach Craig Brown, who praised the U.S. team's midfield-clogging, 3-6-1 system, and added:

"The U.S. is going to be extremely difficult to beat, as we found out. Clearly, they're one of the top sides in the world now. I keep telling people that 162 countries tried to qualify and the U.S. was one of 31 others that succeeded.

"In my lifetime," he said, "the U.S. will win the World Cup."

This was a game of waves, the Americans dominating the first half offensively, the Scots, with 20 minutes left, becoming more assertive on offense, although not in a very intimidating way.

Each team messed up a perfect chance to win. The Americans had a seemingly sure goal from 6 yards by forward Roy Wegerle crack, instead, off the crossbar about 15 minutes in.

Scotland's near-win was frustrated by the individual play of the day -- a confident, assertive, sliding block by U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller that defeated a breakaway, hard and low shot from the Scots' top offensive threat, Kevin Gallacher.

Gallacher had moved 30 yards alone with the ball in the 59th minute. The situation presented itself after a rare miscue by U.S. defender Eddie Pope just inside the attacking zone. Pope said he was trying to chip the ball over Gallacher.

"It's a game of mistakes," Pope said afterward, shaking his head.

Eric Wynalda, first choice as U.S. goal-getter but still off his game while coming back from knee surgery, also nearly won it for the Americans with about 17 minutes left.

Fed by Cobi Jones, he penetrated to the right end line inside the box, cut goalward and shot high for the far post from a nearly impossible angle. The ball whizzed past the corner by inches.

In the end, the statistics reflected play: shots, 9-8, U.S.; saves, 3-2, U.S.; corner kicks, 4-3, Scotland; fouls, 14-13, U.S.

In the first half, play in the heat slowed as the game progressed, with the Scots obviously happy to control the ball in their territory, looking only for the safest routes into attacking position. Their first serious shot didn't come until the 29th minute, that a long header over the crossbar.

The U.S. team, on the other hand, got a decent offensive workout, outshooting the Scots 6-2 and creating the half's best chances; Wegerle's shot was the best one.

A few minutes later, U.S. midfielder Joe-Max Moore had a golden chance, too, timing a run into the box perfectly to capture a beautiful low cross that Jones scorched from the left touchline to the far post. But Scottish goalkeeper Jim Leighton tipped Moore's hard shot over the bar.

A positive for the Americans, without a doubt, was the team's fourth consecutive shutout, tying an all-time team record. On the downside, though, they again created numerous scoring chances but couldn't finish.

Adjustments to avoid, or because of, injuries continue to hurt the squad's offense, and while Sampson said afterward that he still is not worried about scoring, he also noted that in the team's last three warm-ups for France, he still has been unable to field his entire likely starting team.

U.S. Cup schedule

The United States' first-round schedule at the World Cup in France (times EDT):

Date .. Opponent .. .. .. Site .. .. .. .. Time

6/15 .. Germany .. .. ... Paris . .. .. .. 3 p.m.

6/21 .. Iran .. .. .. ... Lyon .. .. .. .. 3 p.m.

6/25 .. Yugoslavia .. ... Nantes .. .. ... 3 p.m.

Pub Date: 5/31/98

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