The U.S. soccer bandwagon, moving unsteadily and heavy with new passengers, found itself forced off the road Sunday by the speeding machine that is German soccer. After an unexpected victory over England four days ago, the U.S. national team returned to its place in the rearview mirror of international soccer.
Germany, the world champion, outclassed a game American team that did not play as well as the 4-3 score indicated. A crowd of 53,549 at Soldier Field watched as the U.S. team fell victim to the well-organized German style that has laid waste to many a good intention.
"Personally, it got to the point where I felt helpless," said U.S. midfielder Tab Ramos. "They were that much better than we were."
Some on the U.S. team were finding solace in being able to score three goals against a team representing a country that has three World Cup titles. But no one, not even perennially rosy U.S. Coach Bora Milutinovic, wanted to ponder allowing Karlheinz Riedle to score three goals.
"You look away for a second and, boom, their striker zips right in there," U.S. defender John Doyle said.
Riedle scored all his goals on headers. It was the first time since 1982 that a German scored three goals in one international match.
Sunday's game was the last for the U.S. team in the U.S. Cup, which it won last year. The United States is in third place, with one victory, against England last Wednesday, and two losses, including its opening game against Brazil. One game remains in the tournament, Germany against England in the Silverdome at Pontiac, Mich., on Saturday.
The German goal came in the 14th minute, even as the U.S. team was trying to unravel the predictable, but effective, German attack. Lothar Matthaeus, playing in his 100th international match for Germany, took a corner kick that bounced off the shoulder of Jurgen Klinsmann and over American goalkeeper Tony Meola.
The first American goal was set up by Ramos. He sent a long pass from just past midfield to Roy Wegerle, who chested the ball, and, without breaking stride, left-footed a centering pass to Thomas Dooley. Dooley scored from the top of the box in the 25th minute to tie the game, 1-1.
Dooley, who has lived in Germany for 32 years, plays in the Bundesliga and carries dual German-U.S. citizenship. He also scored the third American goal off a header in the 80th minute.
He said he was especially excited about the game because it was broadcast to Germany, where his friends and family could see him play for the U.S. team.
U.S. soccer officials were delighted that the game, which was broadcast live in the United States, featured as many goals as it did. Even if the home team lost, they reasoned, goal-scoring helps create interest in the sport.
The usually ineffective U.S. team has scored five goals in three games.
"It was great for ABC," said United States Soccer Federation general secretary Hank Steinbrecher. "It could have been 0-0 or 1-0."
It could have been much worse for the U.S. team, because German forwards outmaneuvered American defenders and peppered Meola with shots. At halftime, Germany had outshot the United States, 18-4. The Germans finished with 28 shots and Meola made 11 saves.
Even while the U.S. team made far fewer shots, they made them count, getting their three goals off only seven shots.
Riedle got Germany's second goal off a diving header in the 34th minute. His header six minutes later gave Germany a 3-1 lead at halftime.
Riedle scored again in the 59th minute, but the Germans appeared to tire.
German Coach Bertie Vogt said the letdown was more about courtesy than fatigue. Germany plays the opening game of the 1994 World Cup in Chicago.
"The German team played extremely well in the first 70 minutes," he said. "But then it remembered that in 12 months it would be a guest here, and (it) started to give away a few gifts."
One of the hallmarks of German play is the relentlessness of its attack.
The same can be said of the Americans, who regularly have to overcome greater odds to get back into games against more skilled opponents. Even though they were frustrated Sunday with passes and attacks that failed to finish, it is becoming evident that one residual from the U.S. Cup will be a reputation for game and hardy play.
Down by three goals to the world champions, the U.S. team pressed forward.
Its second goal was as strange as it was welcome. Mike Lapper sent a long pass to the speedy Ernie Stewart. Stewart got past Jurgen Kohler and, while nearly parallel with the goal, sent a curving shot around onrushing German keeper Andreas Kopke. The ball slowly rolled to the goal mouth and trickled over the line.
Dooley's second goal ended the scoring, but neither team stopped trying to mount an attack.
The U.S. team took away a sobering reminder of its true position in the sport. Having beaten an English team on the decline, for a few hopeful moments the U.S. national team dared to believe it was the equal of anyone.
It discovered otherwise Sunday.