Some Cold Comfort U.S. Booters Storm Past T And T

Filip Bondy
Date Published: 
New York Daily News

RICHMOND, Va. At last, the United States is knowledgeable enough about the sport of soccer to exploit every conspiratorial angle for an important international match.

To make certain that Trinidad and Tobago did them no harm yesterday, the Americans set up a game against a tropical island nation in 48-degree temperature, gusting winds up to 25 miles per hour, with soccer balls manufactured by Nike to float high above the crossbars like helium balloons.

"The ball is too light, the weather is very cold, too hard for our boys," complained Sebastian Pareira, coach of T and T, after the Americans all but eliminated his side from the '98 World Cup in France with a 2-0 victory.

"It is their field, their climate," Pareira said.

Whether such effective scheming and domination will continue against the likes of Mexico and Costa Rica is a debate for another day. But in its second CONCACAF World Cup qualifier yesterday at University of Richmond Stadium, the U.S. mustered all elements at its command and had a relatively easy time against such fleet opponents.

More than anything, the Americans managed this victory with a particularly sticky defense. Alexi Lalas wrestled, Greco-Roman style, with Dwight Yorke, the speedy Aston Villa star. Rookie Eddie Pope neutralized Jarren Nixon.

Sweeper Tom Dooley accomplished his defensive duties, then turned around to score the winning header in the 52d minute.

On this first goal, with the stiff wind at the Americans' backs, Jeff Agoos's corner kick was cleared back to his foot by defender Dexter Lee. Agoos volleyed a cross in front of the goal, and Dooley headed the ball past goalkeeper Haydon Thomas.

Dooley ran straight to the U.S. traveling booster club, Sam's Army, for his goal celebration, wearing red shoes from Germany that captain John Harkes said made Dooley look like "Ronald McDonald."

"This was vindication for our defense," said Steve Sampson, the U.S. coach. "I said all along we needed better positioning, that positioning was more important than speed."

Despite defensive concerns, this was the sixth consecutive shutout by the United States in World Cup qualifiers, dating back to June 16, 1989, a 2-1 victory over Guatemala in New Britain, Conn.

Lalas, not always the most graceful player, was extraordinarily effective yesterday against Yorke, a world class player.

"You want to keep him in front of you," Lalas said. "Otherwise, he can spin you and make you look pretty terrible."

The victory put the U.S. (2-0) in excellent position barring collapse to advance into the second round of qualifying as one of the top two clubs in its four-nation group.

T and T is now 0-2-1 after two home matches, while Guatemala (0-1-1) will not be allowed to play any home matches in the stadium where 84 fans perished.

As expected, this was a very different match than the brutal victory a week earlier against Guatemala; this one was more respectful, less physical. The U.S. was offered much more space to create chances, and accepted the invitation.

The U.S. played into the wind in the first half, however, and could get little bluster behind its own shots.

"That was the first thing everybody was screaming when we came into the locker room at halftime," Harkes said. "We've got the wind."

With their sails full out in the second half, the Americans were in firm control.

In 1989, Michael Maurice lost Paul Caliguiri's 25-yard floater in the sun, and T and T was out of the World Cup. Once again yesterday, there was a goalkeeper's blunder. Thomas, now starting ahead of Maurice, allowed Eric Wynalda's relatively innocuous shot to wiggle beneath his body in the 85th minute, insurance for the Americans.

Wynalda now has 27 international goals, the most of any player in the world during the 90's.
T and T was left to whine about the high-flying balls, chosen carefully by U.S. officials. On Saturday, the visitors had declined to practice with these lighter balls, leaving them along the sideline during a training session.

Yesterday, Pareira paid for his disdain.

"Talk to Nike about that," Lalas said, smiling. "There's definitely a difference in the balls, but that's too bad."

Pareira suggested that heavier leather, possibly manufactured by adidas, awaited the Americans in Port of Spain in two weeks. T and T will have the home fans then, but they already had them yesterday in Richmond.

In order to avoid ethnic rooters, the U.S. Soccer Federation had moved this match to one of the few states won by Bob Dole.

Even this tactic did not work, however, as the place began to spill over with the bright red colors of T and T supporters. The 19,312 fans filled the stands on a first-come, first-serve basis, creating considerable friction from late-arriving spectators who expected to take their reserved seats.

Eventually, things settled down.

Except for the wind and the soccer balls.