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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Needing a Victory, U.S. Falls Behind, Manages Only a Tie

Men's soccer: Portugal scores early and its defensive approach prevents Americans from reaching the second round for first time.

July 25, 1996|STANLEY MEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — On the eve of the Olympic men's soccer match that the Americans had to win to move beyond the first round, Coach Bruce Arena said, "We have control over our destiny now."

His young players fought for 90 minutes Wednesday night in hopes of proving that destiny and defeating Portugal to become the first U.S. team to advance to the Olympic quarterfinals.

Despite a relentless offense that produced 16 corner kicks and 21 shots at Portuguese goalkeeper Paulo Costinha, the U.S. team managed only a 1-1 tie, and that was not enough. The U.S. team needed a victory to advance; Portugal needed no more than a tie.

The announced crowd of 58,012 was the largest for any sports event at RFK Stadium.

Although his players joined the 10 previous U.S. soccer teams eliminated in the first round, Arena, who coaches D.C. United in Major League Soccer, praised his team.

"Our kids showed that they can play with the best in the world and play with style," he said.

Arena, however, acknowledged that Portugal had a chance to break open the game in the first half but failed. Eduardo Vingada, the Portuguese coach, agreed and credited U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, at 26 the oldest American, with shutting down the Portuguese attack with some remarkable saves.

In the first half, the Americans had difficulty keeping up with some of the swifter, more experienced Portuguese players. Daniel P. Kenedy, the 22-year-old forward who plays for Benfica of Lisbon, repeatedly dribbled past American defenders into the clear on counterattacks.

Eddie Pope prevented Kenedy from getting a clear shot early in the first half only by pulling him down before he entered the penalty area. The referee gave Pope a yellow card and awarded the Portuguese a free kick. Keller managed to knock down a bullet from Jose Silva Calado on the free kick.

But Kenedy eluded U.S. defenders again at 33 minutes and passed to Paulo Alves, who drove the ball past Keller. The lead changed the complexion of the game. Because it needed no more than a tie, Portugal could protect its goal with a horde of defenders and concentrate on defense.

For the rest of the game, the Americans carried the attack deep into Portuguese territory while the Portuguese contented themselves with swift counterattacks on intercepted passes.

In the 75th minute, a cross by A.J. Wood gave Brian Maisonneuve a clear shot and he beat Costinha. But the U.S. could not breach the Portuguese defenses again.

Asked later about the American failure to finish, Arena said, "Give the Portuguese credit. They did a tremendous job defending."

After the game, Claudio Reyna, who led the U.S. team with five shots, said, "They held back the very best that we could give. That is very significant. I cannot think of a time when we tried harder to put the ball in the net."

Portugal is 1-0-2, as is Argentina, which was held to a 1-1 tie by Tunisia (1-2). The U.S. team finished 1-1-1.

Vingada said he thought Portugal had a good chance to win with its counterattacks, but he said, "They put a lot of pressure on us."

Although it was obviously a partisan crowd of American boosters, Portugal was not without its fans. Portuguese flags were scattered throughout the stadium, and one group put out a sign, in Portuguese, that "Mineola, N.Y., supports Portugal."

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