ST. LOUIS — The United States scored a 5-1 victory over Jamaica Saturday to advance to the third and final round of qualifying play for the 1990 World Cup soccer championships in Italy.
Despite the score, the match was anything but lopsided. In fact, were it not for a controversial penalty kick awarded to the Americans with just over 22 minutes left to play and the teams tied at 1-1, the outcome might well have been different.
Up to that point, the rain-drenched, sellout crowd of 6,100 at the St. Louis Soccer Park had seen the U.S. take a 1-0 lead on a goal by Brian Bliss in the 28th minute, only to have Jamaica tie it up on a shot by Alton Sterling after a cleverly taken free kick in the 54th minute.
The goal seemed to lift the Jamaicans' spirits, especially since a tie would have sent them through to the next round and eliminated the Americans. But they then suffered two cruel blows in quick succession.
First, forward Paul Newman, possibly their most dangerous player, was taken off after dislocating his left shoulder when he fell awkwardly after a tussle with U.S. defender Kevin Crow. Then, not long after American goalie David Vanole had made a superb save on a shot by Jamaica's Winston Anglin, came the controversial penalty call.
Forward Hugo Perez, like Crow, a member of the San Diego Sockers, had dribbled into the penalty area to the right of the net and had pushed the ball ahead of him at the precise moment that Jamaican defender Dave Brooks committed himself to a sliding tackle. Perez was sent flying and Canadian referee David Brummitt pointed immediately to the penalty spot.
It seemed a dubious and unnecessarily harsh call, and even some U.S. officials admitted afterward that a penalty should not have been awarded. In any event, Perez scored from the resulting kick, the heart went completely out of the Jamaicans and subsequent goals by Frank Klopas in the 76th and 85th minutes, sandwiched around one by Paul Krumpe in the 78th minute, gave the U.S. its margin of victory.
But it was the penalty kick and the generally erratic manner in which Brummitt officiated the match that was the postgame topic of discussion.
"In my opinion, it was not a penalty because as far as I'm concerned the player (Perez) took a dive," Jamaican Coach Geoff Maxwell said.
"I think the penalty changed the whole course of the game because when we equalized we were just about getting on top of America. It was a stupid mistake to some extent by Brooks . . . although it appeared as though he went for the man (instead of the ball), I don't think a penalty should have been given.
"It really made me feel bitter because there's no way on God's earth a referee should give a penalty of that nature, especially in a close situation in a very tough game like this."
Brooks and Perez differed in their view of the crucial incident.
"He (Perez) jumped over me. We never made contact," Brooks said. "I was surprised when I heard the whistle."
"It was a penalty; he hit me right on the shinguard," Perez said.
U.S. Coach Lothar Osiander said he thought Perez aided his cause by making his fall more dramatic than need be.
"Hugo made a nice dive out of it, for sure," Osiander said.
Lenny Roitman, the U.S. assistant coach, agreed that Perez's acting hadn't hurt.
"I sincerely thought that it was a clear penalty, but I thought Hugo did a very, very good job in terms of falling," he said. "I thought that his performance was superb as a Broadway showing."
One good enough, in fact, to bring the World Cup curtain down on the Jamaicans.