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WORLD CUP USA '94 / THE FIRST ROUND : U.S. Prefers to Look at the Standings as Half-Full : Group A: Americans happy to be home, but they acknowledge that mistakes were made against Switzerland.

June 21, 1994|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The U.S. World Cup team tried to walk a thin rhetorical line Monday, seeking to diminish the significance of Romania's unexpected victory over Colombia--the next U.S. opponent--and somehow find the up side to an unsatisfying tie against Switzerland.

A new week brought a new mantra that roughly translated to: We're home and now we'll regroup. The relief was palpable at the U.S. practice, back in the familiar confines of the U.S. training center in Mission Viejo. Relief that the Midwestern heat wave had been left behind and the players could now train in a less-draining climate.

There was talk of the point gained against Switzerland in Saturday's tie, as opposed to the opportunity to gain two additional points the team might have squandered with its inability to play the ball forward. The U.S. midfielders accepted their portion of the responsibility for the poor showing.

The usually reliable Thomas Dooley played a sub-par game and spent much of his time running from crisis to crisis to help out. The team has run into similar problems when Dooley, a tireless runner, tries to do too much damage control in other players' territories and neglects his own assignments.

"When we get the ball from the defense we need to keep the ball in the midfield," Dooley said. "When we have the ball we need to make our touch good. My first five, six touches were a mistake. I got more nervous. So I tried to play every time a good long ball so I could get more confidence, more touch. There are balls that were wrong. If we keep the ball in the midfield, it's much easier for us to play our game."

Defender Cle Kooiman also acknowledged he had not been happy with his play, even though he was playing right outside defender, a position he had played only three times. Although he was able to tackle and win the ball, Kooiman was not successful in then playing the ball to a teammate to launch the counterattack. Much of the time he was able only to kick the ball out of bounds.

"You are allowed one of those (bad days), but not in the World Cup," Kooiman said. "I won't make the same mistakes again, you can be sure of that."

Point calculation was another topic. Four points is the generally accepted figure that will move a team from the first round to the second, which means the United States must win one of its next two games to advance. Because Colombia comes into Wednesday's game with no points, the possibility of a blowout looms.

U.S. Coach Bora Milutinovic extended his positive-thinking agenda to the Colombians, who have been pilloried since their loss, which the U.S. coach claimed not to have seen.

"Colombia lost that game, but it's only one game," Milutinovic said. "Colombia continues to be one of the favorites of this World Cup. I don't think much has changed."

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