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SOCCER : U.S. Plays Mexico to 2-2 Draw

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The United States did not win its soccer game Tuesday night at the Coliseum, but it has been a long time since it had a more satisfying, or unlikely, tie.

With less than one minute remaining in the opening game of the North American Nations Cup, midfielder Bruce Murray scored on a free kick from about 25 yards out that earned the United States a 2-2 tie with Mexico.

In 25 games against the United States, it was only the sixth time that Mexico has not won.

It appeared that the Mexicans were on their way to another routine victory when they scored on a shot by Misael Espinosa in the 76th minute. But, while attempting to run out the clock, they fouled one time too many in the closing moments.

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That allowed Murray, the leading goal scorer on the U.S. team, a chance to be the hero.

“We were practicing that shot yesterday,” U.S. Coach John Kowalski said. “I knew that if he got a chance, he could make it. It was one of the most powerful shots you are going to see.”

Mexico has two days to recover from the shock before playing Canada Thursday night at the Coliseum. The United States and Canada will end the tournament Saturday at El Camino College in Torrance.

A crowd of 6,261, most of them Mexico fans, watched the game, but one of them was not Bora Milutinovic.

The Yugoslav who coached Mexico in the 1986 World Cup and Costa Rica in the 1990 World Cup and is considered the leading candidate to coach the United States in the 1994 World Cup was expected to attend after meeting in Los Angeles with U.S. Soccer Federation President Alan Rothenberg.

Instead, Milutinovic returned to Mexico City. Meantime, Rothenberg released a statement that said Milutinovic remains “a top prospect” but added the search will continue for a coach until the federation is prepared to make an announcement in early April.

Before the game, Rothenberg said his discussion with Milutinovic went well.

“We just want to look at some other candidates,” he said.

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Some federation officials suggested even before the game that one of the candidates should be Kowalski, who was named to coach the team on an interim basis after Bob Gansler resigned Feb. 23. The United States upset Olimpia of Paraguay, 2-0, Saturday at Tampa, Fla. in Kowalski’s debut.

Asked if Kowalski might be retained, Rothenberg said, “I don’t think so, but if we win tonight, there could be a groundswell of support for him.”

The United States did not win, but no one would have ever guessed it from the way their players celebrated after Murray’s goal.


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