SOCCER : U.S. Sharp, but Settles for 2-2 Tie

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After 89 minutes of spirited action, it came down to a header when the U.S. national soccer team settled for a 2-2 tie against Bolivia in a World Cup warm-up Saturday before 26,835 at the Cotton Bowl.

With a shot that could have given the United States its second victory of the year, Claudio Reyna barely missed as the ball hit the crossbar and bounced down on the goal line before being cleared by Bolivia as time ran out.

Although disappointing, Reyna's try symbolized a strong U.S. effort that was highlighted by Hugo Perez' two goals.

But it was Reyna, a midfielder who played on the 1992 U.S. Olympic team, who gave the Americans a lift in the second half when the teams traded scoring opportunities.

Reyna's header in the last minute failed to change the result, but it provided the most excitement.

Reyna was in position to score because Cobi Jones broke free on the left touchline and crossed to the midfielder, who was breaking toward the goal from the right.

"The pass was a little behind me," Reyna said. "After I hit it, I didn't see where it went because I was on the ground."

Although tying Bolivia for the third time in 10 months, the United States showed some progress Saturday.

Not that it started that way. Playing against a team missing some of its best players, the United States gave up the first goal on a set play, the kind that frustrate coaches.

It came in the 12th minute when Bolivia's Julio Baldivieso scored on a free kick from about 25 yards out. It was a perfectly placed kick, and all goalie Tony Meola could do was make a diving attempt to save it.

And if not for a defensive blunder in the second half, the United States could have--make that, should have--won.

Perez scored his first goal on a penalty kick to tie the game in the 31st minute, then he scored in the 48th minute to give the Americans a 2-1 lead. After that, the teams traded attacks and lost opportunities. Bolivia had a good chance in the 58th minute when Meola, who had six saves, was lulled out of the goal by Ramiro Castillo. But his shot, taken at a difficult angle, was saved by defender Paul Caligiuri who rushed to the line to block it.

Finally, though, the defense faltered in the 76th minute when Luis Cristaldo chased down a pass in the left corner and found himself unchallenged.

Cristaldo turned and crossed to the near post where Castillo was waiting in front of the goal. He simply one-touched the ball in with his right foot.

"They caught us unaware," said Sigi Schmid, a U.S. assistant.

Instead of letting down, the United States kept attacking with Reyna and Jones trying to create opportunities.

"It was important that we didn't lose," said Perez, who moved into sole possession of second place on the U.S. all-time scoring list with 16 goals.

Perez, fighting for a position on the World Cup roster, said his second goal was easy.

And indeed it was. The goal was set up when Jones took a long pass and kicked to Chris Henderson on the right side. Henderson beat a defender and drew goalkeeper Carlos Trucco to him. He centered the ball to Perez, who was unmarked.

"It was candy," Perez said of the eight-yard score.

Bolivia also came away happy with Saturday's result.

Xabier Azkargorta, Bolivia's coach, said the team showed the kind of improvement that will make it better this summer, and with some of his stars playing in Europe, he was not too concerned about this game.

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