THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 7 : Soccer : Soviets Eliminate U.S. With 4-2 Victory
Asked how long it would take to catch the Soviet Union in soccer, United States Coach Lothar Osiander said generations.
Unfortunately for the U.S. Olympic team, it had only 42 minutes Thursday night after the Soviets had taken an insurmountable 4-0 lead 3 minutes into the second half at Taegu Stadium.
The United States managed to make the outcome respectable, scoring twice in the final 21 minutes against a relaxed Soviet defense. Still, the 4-2 loss eliminated the United States from the tournament after only three matches and kept its lamentable record intact of never having reached the quarterfinals in the Olympics.
The United States finished last among the four teams in its preliminary group with a 0-1-2 record. South Korea had the same record but finished third because of a better goal differential. That was little consolation to its players, each of whom had been promised cars by the Korean Football Assn. if they finished first or second in their group.
The keys were within their grasp before a 2-1 loss Thursday night at Pusan to Argentina (1-1-1), which advanced to the quarterfinals along with the Soviet Union (2-0-1).
After ties against Argentina and South Korea, the United States could have advanced with a victory over the Soviets. But that would have taken an upset of 1980 Lake Placid “Miracle on Ice” proportions. This one could have been called splendor in the grass.
It didn’t happen, but it wasn’t because of a lack of crowd support. Among the 20,000 spectators in the 30,000-seat stadium were several thousand U.S. military personnel, who came to see the first U.S.-Soviet confrontation in a team sport of these Games.
Many Americans in the crowd apparently hadn’t heard of the improved relations between the countries, cheering when Soviet players were injured. But the teams practiced glasnost .
When a U.S. assistant coach, who had been born in the Soviet Union, went from Taegu to Pusan, about a 2-hour drive, Sunday to scout the Soviets against South Korea, he was allowed to ride on the Soviet team’s bus. When a Soviet assistant went to Pusan Tuesday to scout the United States against South Korea, the courtesy was returned.
When the United States played against South Korea, it was without three starters, who had been stricken with food poisoning. But the match ended in a scoreless tie, thanks to a tenacious U.S. defense led by former UCLA goalkeeper David Vanole. In the 1-1 tie against Argentina two nights before that, he had allowed only one goal, that on a penalty kick.
But Vanole the goalie was no match for the Soviets. They scored 7 minutes into the match when he was caught out of position after a perfect chip pass from Igor Dobrovolski to Alexi Mikhailichenko, who headed the ball into the net.
“That first mistake really affected me because I came off a good game against Korea,” Vanole said. “Mistakes happen, but I let that one bother me.”
The Soviets scored again 12 minutes later, when Arminas Narbekovas kicked in a loose ball from about 15 feet away.
The clincher, though, was scored with a little more than a minute remaining in the first half, after Vanole, attempting to snatch the ball away from Narbekovas, was called for a penalty inside the penalty area. Dobrovolski scored on the penalty kick to give the Soviets a 3-0 halftime lead.
Vanole argued the call.
“No way in hell was that a penalty,” he said. “I didn’t even touch him. He clicked his own heels and jumped over me. It was a professional play by him. He created it for himself.”
But Osiander still blamed Vanole.
“He should have had the ball cleanly,” Osiander said. “He’s our No. 1 goalkeeper, but he had a weak moment here and there.”
Osiander, however, was faulted by some of the players, who second-guessed his strategy of playing defensively. Not until after the United States had fallen behind, 4-0, early in the second half on a chip shot by Mikhailichenko, did it begin to play aggressively on offense.
“You can’t back down,” forward Peter Vermes of Delran, N.J., said.
With 21 minutes remaining, Ricky Davis and Brent Goulet, both of Tacoma, Wash., teamed for a score after a Davis pass. Five minutes from the end, John Doyle of Fremont, Calif., scored on a header after faking a pass to Goulet that the Soviet goalkeeper bought.
“We know now never to play a defensive strategy again,” Vanole said. “When we took it to them in the second half, we tired them out. Next time we play them, we’ll be better for this experience.”
The U.S. assistant coach, Len Roitman, defended the strategy.
“We were hoping to get out of the first half with a scoreless tie or maybe score a goal and start them wondering,” he said. “It’s not like they created goals. It was three big errors on our part. We never give up four goals.”
Osiander added that although he appreciated the United States’ spirited play in the second half, it was effective mostly because the Soviets, realizing they had the game clinched, let down.
“Some of the goals we gave away were high school mistakes,” he said. “We were just too excited about the whole thing. Maybe it was the opponents. Maybe it was the importance of the game.
“We’re getting better. Two years ago, we’d have lost this game 8 or 9 to nothing. We’d have lost to Argentina 3 or 4 to nothing. We’re progressing. But we’re by no means a power in soccer.”
The U.S. Soccer Federation hopes to field a team that will be a power in time for the 1994 World Cup, which will be played in the United States. But first it must attempt to keep enough of these players together to qualify next year for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
“You don’t build anything overnight,” Osiander said. “Soccer is a cultural sport. It has to be a sport of the masses before you can put together a team to play at the international level. We won’t be ready in 1990. Maybe 1994.”