World Cup Soccer : U.S. Opens 3rd Round Today in Costa Rica
After 39 years of failure, the United States has its best chance yet of advancing to soccer’s World Cup finals as it opens the third round of qualifying for the 1990 competition today against Costa Rica at San Jose, Costa Rica.
U.S. midfielder Hugo Perez will miss the game because of an injury, and captain Rick Davis is doubtful after arthroscopic knee surgery.
The United States, which had a first-round bye, advanced to the third round by defeating Jamaica last summer. Costa Rica, the country that eliminated the United States from the 1986 World Cup, beat Panama and then got a bye when Mexico was expelled from the tournament.
Costa Rica is 1-1 so far in the third round, losing to Guatemala, 1-0, on March 19 and beating Guatemala, 2-1, on April 2. Other teams in the third round are El Salvador, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Strong recent performances have made the United States a favorite to be one of the two teams from the Central and North American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF) to advance to the tournament in Italy next summer.
“In our neck of the woods, we’ve achieved parity,” U.S. national team Coach Bob Gansler said. “I’m impressed with the speed of the Costa Ricans and the way they move on the field, but we came here confident of victory.”
With Mexico barred from international competition for two years for using over-age players in qualifying for the under-20 world championships, and Canada already eliminated, two of the United States’ major adversaries in the region have been removed.
“I don’t think there is a favorite (in the region),” Gansler said. “If anybody feels this is going to be a cakewalk, they are sadly mistaken.”
The United States will play the return match against Costa Rica on April 30 at Fenton, Mo., and play host to Trinidad and Tobago on May 13 at El Camino College in Torrance.
Then, the United States plays Guatemala in New Britain, Conn. on June 10. It plays in El Salvador on July 9 and in Guatemala on Oct. 8. The final two games will be played at yet to be determined U.S. sites against El Salvador on Nov. 5 and in Trinidad and Tobago on Nov. 19.
The United States last played in the World Cup in 1950--when participation was by invitation. Since then, they have failed to qualify in nine consecutive attempts.
After a successful Olympic qualifying performance, an encouraging Olympic showing, a third-place finish in the world indoor championships in the Netherlands in January and a surprisingly strong, fourth-place finish in the under-20 world championships in Saudi Arabia in February, the United States team has gained confidence.
“To put us in the World Cup will make us a legitimate host to the 1994 World Cup,” forward Brent Goulet said. “For the players who stuck it out in soccer when there really was nowhere for them to play in this country . . . for all these players, for us to keep their dream alive is so important.”
Davis said the team’s approach has changed considerably since 1981.
“Then,” he said, “we were in a group with Canada and Mexico. When we went down to Mexico, the attitude on the team was ‘Well let’s try to keep it as close as possible.’ Whereas when we went down to El Salvador last year as part of the Olympic qualifying it was: ‘Hey, let’s see if we can’t really run this score up.’
“The overall attitude is completely different.”
Improved confidence came during the indoor championships in the Netherlands.
“What we got out of the indoor championships is that they’re human and that we have the skill,” Goulet said. “We can beat those teams.”
The team has been able to maintain continuity by placing more than a dozen players under contract, which has kept the players together.
Goulet, Perez, Bruce Murray and Peter Vermes consistently have made up the offensive threat over the last two years. Davis has anchored a midfield with Tab Ramos, John Harkes and Jim Gabarra, and Mike Windischmann has formed the base of the defense with Paul Caligiuri and Brian Bliss.
David Vanole has been the No. 1 goalkeeper over the past two years but now has yielded that role to his backup, Jeff Duback.