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U.S. NOTES

More Than Grudging Respect

June 07, 2002|GRAHAME L. JONES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SEOUL — The respect that American soccer long has been seeking in Europe finally is arriving. This week's victory over Portugal has opened a few blinkered eyes and the U.S. national team is now viewed differently.

Some measure of respect was accorded to the team even before Wednesday's 3-2 victory in Suwon, South Korea. Eusebio, the legendary player who led Portugal to the quarterfinals of the 1966 World Cup, where he finished as the tournament's leading goal scorer, warned last month that the Americans might be a handful.

"It is worth remembering that our group is not as easy as it seems at first sight," said the "Black Panther," as he was known in his playing days. "I saw the United States play against Uruguay [a 2-0 U.S. victory in Washington D.C. on May 12] and I was impressed with the players' physical fitness."

On Thursday, two Italian World Cup standouts praised the U.S. performance in its upset of Portugal.

"The U.S. has developed a lot and did excellent things [in a 1-0 loss to Italy on Feb. 13]," said defender Paolo Maldini, an AC Milan teammate of Portuguese midfielder Rui Costa.

"I spoke to Rui Costa before the World Cup and he was seriously worried about playing the Americans."

Italian forward Filippo Inzaghi also praised the U.S.

"Denmark was incredible and obviously Senegal impressed me when they beat France," he said. "But there are two teams--Senegal and the United States--who have impressed me with the quality of their play."

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Brian McBride's headed goal against the Portuguese on Wednesday was not only the game-winner but it made him the first American player in history to score in two World Cups. McBride also scored against Iran in 1998.

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U.S. defender Jeff Agoos is laughing off the own goal he scored in the Portugal game when he accidentally volleyed a cross by Portuguese forward Pauleta into his own net.

"I got an e-mail from a friend of mine before the game and he said, 'I have a feeling you're going to get a goal,' " Agoos said Thursday. "I'm going to tell him to be more specific [next time]."

Agoos also took some ribbing from U.S. teammates.

"A couple of the forwards asked me in practice this morning if they could help me in finishing off [scoring] chances," he said.

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