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Upset of Norway Sets Tone for U.S. : Soccer: Jones scores in final minute as United States comes from behind against the fourth-ranked team in the world, 2-1.

January 16, 1994|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEMPE, Ariz. — Respectability has been a long time coming for the U.S. national soccer team. Scoffed at as a ragged band of "college boys" who qualified on a fluke for the 1990 World Cup, the team has emerged as the confident host of this summer's World Cup.

The team's assurance has been born of victories, including one over England last summer. But there were still questions about the talent and heart of the U.S. team.

How, then, to calculate the benefit of Saturday's 2-1 upset over Norway, ranked No. 4 in the world?

The fallout is likely to be widespread. The message to the rest of the soccer world is that Bora Milutinovic's team is capable of beating a world power, even when that team is at full strength. That possibility, only hinted at before, makes the U.S. team a pesky wild card for the World Cup.

And the team, which has bickered and struggled, might have found a unity of purpose only five months before the World Cup.

"I think it sets a tone for the U.S. team," said Cobi Jones, who scored the winning goal in the final minute. "It sends a message to the rest of the world and ourselves. It says we can play with the best. We can come from behind and not give up."

Norway had loomed large for the United States, representing its first full-strength World Cup-qualified opponent in months. Norway came by its ranking after a World Cup qualifying performance that left it at the top of a group that included England, the Netherlands and Poland.

In addition, the team had called up several of its top players based in the English league.

But in the game played in brilliant sunshine before 15,386 at Sun Devil Stadium, the United States neutralized Norway's long-ball attack and itself had its best day.

Jones had the game's first scoring chance in the 10th minute. He received the ball from Dominic Kinnear and his shot hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out.

Norway scored at the end of the half. Jostein Flo used a give-and-go to get around sweeper Marcelo Balboa. Erik Mykland sent a cross to Frank Strandli, whose left-footed shot went past goalkeeper Tony Meola.

Even though the U.S. players had done well winning balls and creating chances, they were suspect as a team with the ability to come from behind. Milutinovic told them at the half that they were playing well and could win.

The players took that to heart in the second half, starting with Balboa. The national team veteran had not played a full game in 8 1/2 months after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Balboa played 29 minutes as a substitute against El Salvador five weeks ago and was expected to come in for only 20 minutes in the second half on Saturday.

But Desmond Armstrong bruised his back in the first half and Balboa came in to replace the man who had, for months, replaced him.

Balboa reveled in his return and, in the 55th minute, scored his first goal in more than a year. Joe-Max Moore lofted a corner kick and Balboa rose above a group of defenders and headed the ball in.

The goal was called "impossible" by Norwegian Manager Egil Olsen, but he spoke in frustration. Norway gave up only five goals last season, but four came off corner kicks.

The winning goal was set up by Claudio Reyna, a junior at Virginia playing in his first game with the senior national team. Dario Brose, also making his debut with the team, threw a long ball up the sideline to Reyna, who had raced past the surprised Norwegian defenders. Reyna got off a sharp left-footed shot from the left side that Norway's goalkeeper, Frode Grodas, stopped but did not cover. Jones pounced on the rebound and scored.

Elation was evident among the U.S. players, who have longed for a meaningful victory. But the true measure of the team's improvement might be this--no longer is a loss to the U.S. national team an international humiliation. English manager Graham Taylor was excoriated after his team's loss to the United States last summer, but Olsen will merely regroup his team and learn from the experience.

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