Yanks roll to Games berth

Guatemala beaten, 4-0

Honduras stuns Mexico in semifinal

April 29, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

HERSHEY, Pa. -- Book 'em -- those tickets to Australia for the U.S. under-23 men's soccer team.

Scoring just 44 seconds into play and dashing off three goals in the first 21 minutes, the Americans clinched one of two berths from this region of the world in the summer Olympics with a 4-0 romp over Guatemala before 12,299 last night at Hersheypark Stadium.

The night meant not only a celebration for the U.S. team, but was one for the history books for tiny Honduras, which shocked favored Mexico, winning the North and Central America and Caribbean region's second Olympic berth on penalty kicks, 5-4, after a scoreless draw in regulation.

The Hondurans qualified for an Olympic final 16 for the first time, an achievement that will rank among the highest of all in that nation.

At 3: 30 p.m. Sunday, the semifinal winners will meet here for the qualifying tournament's championship, but that will be window dressing after both teams' accomplishments last night.

U.S. coach Clive Charles said before the Guatemala game: "I told the players I wanted them to play the best game they'd ever played in their lives, and they did."

At halftime, Dr. Robert Contiguglia, president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, was already delighted. He said the U.S. qualifying for an Olympic final found for the 12th time -- now six straight -- "reflects a combination of the success of our youth leagues and Major League Soccer together.

"We're beginning to see the development of an American style of playing; that is, attacking, entertaining soccer. ... It's a joy to watch these kids play."

Those "kids" not only advanced to the Games, they did it with their third straight shutout in the six-nation tournament that began here last Friday.

And 18-year-old scoring wunderkind Landon Donovan, a Californian now playing at Germany's Bayer Leverkusen, led them in scoring twice in his first start of the tournament.

Very confident before the media afterward for one so young, Donovan said he learned of his start on Thursday, adding: "I've been waiting to do whatever all I can to help this team get to Sydney. ... Any game you play as an international is motivation.`

Fans had scarcely settled down after the Honduran victory before the U.S. team put up its first goal against Guatemala.

From about 14 yards, midfielder John O'Brien, a starter this season for famed Ajax of Amsterdam, slammed the ball home, taking a neatly headed back-pass from forward Chris Albright off a deep free kick that originated near midfield.

His goal took the steam out of the heavily Central American crowd early; blue and white-bearing fans of both Honduras and Guatemala, as well as Mexico, were loudly supporting Guatemala against the U.S. team.

The U.S. speed advantage was apparent from the kickoff. Plus, the U.S. opened with a three-man front that emphasized its intent to attack.

That emphasis was punctuated in the eighth minute, when the Yanks made it 2-0, forward Josh Wolff tapping in a lovely cross from Albright, who plays for D.C. United, from about five yards.

Albright had gained possession near the left side of midfield, sprinted forward and, nearing the corner of the box, drew the one remaining defender before passing across the box.

The third goal, matching the total U.S. output in its opening tourney win against Honduras, came in the 21st minute and will make the year's American soccer highlight reel.

D.C. United star Ben Olsen, from nearby Middletown, started it with a free kick near midfield that Wolff took deep in the right side of the box.

Under pressure, he smoked a grounder about four yards out from goal that Albright dummied -- purposely let run between his legs to Donovan.

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