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SOCCER : Chile Is Latest to Expose U.S. Weaknesses

May 01, 1994|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — For all but a couple of minutes Saturday, Patricio Toledo was only one of the crowd of 15,610 at University Stadium, enjoying the sunshine and watching the soccer.

Toledo had a decent view of the match, of course, being as he was Chile's starting goalkeeper in an international exhibition against the United States. The trouble was, he didn't have much to do.

So inept was the U.S. offense that Toledo almost never saw the ball. Not wanting to be left out entirely, he took matters into his own hands in the game's dying moments.

A long downfield kick from the goalkeeper found midfielder Pedro Gonzalez one on one against U.S. defender Fernando Clavijo. After eluding Clavijo, Gonzalez fired a shot that flashed past U.S. goalkeeper Tony Meola and gave Chile its second goal in a 2-0 victory.

It was that sort of afternoon for the U.S. team, which has lost two consecutive games and is 2-4-7 this year as it prepares for the World Cup, which opens June 17.

It is now May and Coach Bora Milutinovic has some difficult decisions to make. One of them will be who not to cut from his roster. The American-based players have been tried time and again and been found wanting.

If the overseas-based Americans cannot do any better when they start trickling in, the U.S. team might as well mail in its scores for World Cup matches against Switzerland, Colombia and Romania.

Unable to generate any offense because its midfield gets pinned back and has to help out the error-prone defense, the American squad is in trouble. It tried to make a game of it in the second half Saturday, especially with Milutinovic throwing substitutions onto the field like rice at a wedding.

But even with fresh players, the U.S. team was not able to keep up with the Chileans, who did not qualify for the World Cup this year but are 5-0-1 against the United States in a series dating to 1950.

The opening half was an exercise in futility for both teams until the final minute. Then, with the U.S. team apparently believing it had survived the first 45 minutes intact, Chile struck on a quick counterattack.

Esteban Valencia made a run down the left flank, juked inside U.S. right back Clavijo and was unchallenged by either of the central defenders, Alexi Lalas and Marcelo Balboa, who simply stood and watched him.

Valencia passed to Rodrigo Barrera, running in on the right, and Barrera made no mistake with his shot, firing the ball into the far left corner of the net beyond the reach of Meola.

Meola had done well to thwart Chile's only other serious scoring threat in the half, a blistering shot off a free kick by defender Javier Margas that Meola punched out to safety.

Chile had applied most of the offensive pressure in the half, pinning the U.S. team in its half of the field. For the most part, the U.S. defense was able to absorb the pressure, thanks in large measure to midfielder Mike Burns, who was positioned immediately in front of the U.S. back four and able to foil Chile on several occasions with some timely tackles.

As for offense, the Americans were a no-show in the first half. Frank Klopas, playing as a solitary striker in Milutinovic's increasingly dubious system, saw little of the ball. Hugo Perez and, later, Claudio Reyna were supposed to help Klopas, but neither did.

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