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WORLD CUPUNITED STATES 3, PORTUGAL 2

Arena Plays Shock Market

Soccer: Coach's new lineup pays off with three first-half goals in stunning upset. Second round a real possibility.

June 06, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SUWON, South Korea — Apparently, there isn't much to this World Cup business. Just throw a bunch of guys together--almost any 11 will do--take on a pedigreed European power and walk off the field with a victory.

That--implausibly, improbably, impressively--was exactly what the United States did here Wednesday night, gunning down Portugal with a three-goal barrage in the first half and then hanging on to win, 3-2, in front of a disbelieving crowd of 37,306.

The unexpected result drew immediate comparisons to two other American World Cup upsets: the 1-0 victory over England in Brazil in 1950 and the 2-1 victory over Colombia at the Rose Bowl in 1994.

This one might have been bigger than either, however, not only because of the quality of the opposition but because it was achieved with a makeshift team whose 11 starters had never played together.

On top of that, six of the U.S. players were making their World Cup debut.

"I think this victory will grab the attention of a lot of people in the United States," U.S. Coach Bruce Arena said.

Maybe. Maybe not. What will grab the attention is the postgame comment made by Portugal Coach Antonio Oliveira.

"We tried everything possible to get a draw," he said. This from a man whose team was overwhelmingly favored to win Group D and included the likes of FIFA world player of the year Luis Figo of Real Madrid and lesser stars such as Rui Costa of AC Milan, Sergio Conceicao of Inter Milan and Fernando Couto of Lazio.

A draw was the last thing on the minds of the Portuguese when the national anthems were being played, but 36 minutes into the game they found themselves trailing by three goals.

That too deserves to be put in perspective. The last time an American team scored three goals in a World Cup match was when Bert Patenaude bagged a hat trick against Paraguay in 1930.

There were no hat tricks Wednesday, but the match will go into the record books as the first in World Cup history to feature two own goals, although that's jumping ahead in the story.

Injuries to Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis forced Arena to juggle his lineup, and he went for broke. For example:

* David Regis was tossed out as the left back and replaced by Frankie Hejduk, who had never played the position for the national team.

* Pablo Mastroeni, a free spirit from Arizona who became a U.S. citizen only last year, was assigned the defensive midfield role even though he had played only 10 national team games.

* Two 20-year-olds, Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, were given starting assignments.

On paper, it seemed as if the U.S. was headed for a drubbing. Instead, it might be heading to the second round if it can produce similarly inspired performances against South Korea on Monday and Poland on June 14.

It took the U.S. only four minutes to take the lead.

A corner kick by Earnie Stewart on the left reached Brian McBride, whose sharp header was only parried by Portuguese goalkeeper Vitor Baia. The ball rebounded to John O'Brien, who lashed a left-foot shot into the back of the net, bringing a gasp from the crowd and a roar from the U.S. bench.

"It was important that we came out and attacked them from the get-go and maybe put them on their heels a bit," McBride said.

The U.S. continued to attack and doubled its lead in unexpected fashion in the 29th minute when Donovan hit a hopeful cross from the right only to see the ball deflect off the back of defender Jorge Costa and elude Baia's desperate lunge as it flew into the net.

"It was weird," Donovan said. "I hit it and when it first deflected I thought, 'oh, damn,' but I looked up and it [the ball] just had eyes for the goal. I'm obviously not going to take credit for it, but they all count."

The third U.S. goal, seven minutes later, was a thing of beauty. Defender Tony Sanneh overlapped down the right wing and crossed the ball to the far post. McBride launched himself in a headfirst dive and headed it powerfully into the net, with Baia having no chance to make a save.

"Everybody was ecstatic," Cobi Jones said. "Everybody was excited. It's an unbelievable feeling to be up 3-0 on Portugal in the first half. No one could have guessed that a month ago."

Stung for a third time, Portugal finally responded.

"I think it was pretty obvious that we awoke a pretty big beast," McBride said. "They're a very good team and they attack regardless of what the score is. We knew we couldn't have any mental lapses, and when we did they hurt us."

Three minutes after McBride's goal, Portugal cut the deficit when O'Brien, helping out on defense, cleared the ball only as far as Beto, who slammed it past goalkeeper Brad Friedel to make the score 3-1.

Portugal enjoyed the better of the second half, but its finishing was uncharacteristically woeful. It was left to American defender Jeff Agoos to help out in the 71st minute when he accidentally volleyed the ball into his own net.

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