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Guatemala Gets the Fans, U.S. Gets Victory

Soccer: Americans' 2-0 World Cup qualifying triumph silences 30,082 in nation's capital.


WASHINGTON — The U.S. national soccer team began its long odyssey to the 1998 World Cup Sunday with a 2-0 victory over Guatemala in the nation's capital. Whose nation's capital could easily be disputed.

In an emotionally charged match before an overwhelmingly pro-Guatemala crowd of 30,082 at RFK Stadium, the Americans struck for two goals after halftime to make up for a sluggish first half. Eric Wynalda, the U.S. team's all-time leading scorer, converted Claudio Reyna's pass in the 55th minute and then assisted on Brian McBride's goal in the closing moments to quiet Guatemala's spirited supporters.

When the teams came onto the field, "I couldn't believe it," U.S. defender Jeff Agoos said. "I looked around and saw all the flags, and I swear we were playing in Guatemala City. We've got to have more American fans at our home games."

Historically that has been a problem for the U.S. team in games played in Southern California and other metropolitan areas. But never before in Washington.

The Guatemalan supporters, from all over the East Coast, began arriving at 7 a.m.--six hours before kickoff. They waved blue-and-white flags, gathered around a marimba band outside the main gate and held up touching, handwritten signs--"We Are Guatemala Plus 84. In Peace They Rest"--in memory of the fans killed before a qualifying match in Guatemala City last month.

U.S. Coach Steve Sampson said he was "very disappointed" in the lack of support for his team, which has made steady strides over the past five years. In previous games at RFK, the U.S. squad has drawn large and passionate crowds. In its most important match since Sampson was given the job 15 months ago, however, it was the visiting team that received an emotional lift.

The United States is tied for first place in Group 1 with Costa Rica with a win apiece, followed by Guatemala (0-1-1) and Trinidad and Tobago (0-1-1). The top two teams in the round-robin competition will advance to next year's six-team regional finals, from which three will go to the '98 World Cup in France.

The U.S. squad's next game is Sunday against Trinidad and Tobago in Richmond, Va.

"It was very important we started out with a win and I'm thankful we got three points" for the victory, Sampson said. "In the first half, that was in question because of the quality of the effort Guatemala came out with."

In the previous meeting between the teams, the United States was a 3-0 winner last January in Los Angeles. This time the Guatemalans were much more organized and aggressive, creating a handful of good scoring chances.

"The game was the same for both teams," their coach, Horacio Cordero, said. "The only difference was they made their opportunities."

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