SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES : U.S. Team Looks Sharp in Opener


Some thoughts on the U.S. national team’s season-opening 2-2 tie with Uruguay on Saturday at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas:

--To judge by his animated behavior on the bench, Bora Milutinovic still retains an interest in being the national coach, despite the fact that his contract expired three months ago and despite rumors that he will not sign a new one.

--Would someone please tell ESPN that in soccer the home team always is listed first, no matter what the score or the circumstance.

--Even though it allowed a 2-0 lead to disappear in the last 15 minutes, the U.S. team’s overall performance was sharp, with Cobi Jones especially effective in setting up both American goals.


John Kerr Jr., the former Duke All-American who opened the scoring in the eighth minute with a well-struck shot, last played for the national team on June 7, 1988. Why he was ignored for the next 147 games is a mystery.

--The national team’s new uniforms are acceptable, if unimaginative. Now if only the USSF would stop changing the design every few months.

--With Tony Meola thankfully no longer in the picture, Juergen Sommer was given the first chance to inherit the goalkeeping mantle. Sommer, of Indiana, was to blame on the tying goal, letting the ball escape his grasp, but also made at least three excellent saves. The least he deserves is further consideration.

--Challenging for the goalkeeping spot will be Brad Friedel, No. 2 behind Meola in last year’s World Cup. Friedel, of UCLA, recently signed to play for Brondby in the Danish first division.

--Continuing to be ignored is Kasey Keller. Will the USSF ever admit he is being blacklisted?

--ESPN’s coverage was mercifully free of commercial interruption, a giant step forward for televised soccer in the United States. Announcers Bob Ley and Ty Keough had done their homework and there was no need to turn the sound off to enjoy the game as in years past.


--The U.S. team’s Bruin connection continues. When Zak Ibsen and Ante Razov came on as second-half substitutes, it meant there were four current or former UCLA players in the game, including Jones and Paul Caligiuri.

--Despite what Alan Rothenberg calls a close and friendly connection between the USSF and the Mexican League, none of the U.S. players in that league were released for the game. That postponed Marcelo Balboa’s chance to become the first American to play 100 games for his country.

--The crowd of 12,242 at the Cotton Bowl was about what was expected, given the lightning and thunderstorm that caused the game to be abandoned after 83 minutes.

--Alexi Lalas continues to shine, not necessarily on the field but in front of the microphone. His halftime interview with ESPN contained some typical Lalas gems. Speaking of becoming the first American to play in Italy’s first division, with Padova, Lalas said:

“Padova went into K-Mart and they saw this pair of shoes that they knew were cheap and they knew they shouldn’t buy them but they were, like, ‘Damn, they’re cool!’ and so they smuggled the shoes out--they didn’t want anybody to see they were actually shopping in there--and then they went out and put them on and strutted around and it turned out pretty good and they look pretty good in their shoes.”

--Ernie Stewart, who scored the second U.S. goal in the 67th minute, is begging for trouble when he starts bad-mouthing game officials. Complaining that Uruguay’s first goal, in the 75th minute, was offside, Stewart said: “That was a joke. The linesman was blind.”


--If the Uruguayans want to quibble, there was a hint of offside on the first U.S. goal too, when Jones might have been a step or two behind the defense while collecting the pass from Jeff Agoos. The television camera angle certainly gave that impression.

--Next up for the national team is an April 22 game in Brussels against Belgium, whose soccer federation is celebrating its centenary.

Soccer Notes

The United States’ first-round elimination at the Pan American Games, where it lost all three games without scoring a goal, has put Coach Timo Liekoski directly in the line of fire. Liekoski will have to turn the team around in a hurry to save his job as Olympic coach. . . . Mexico plays Chile at the Coliseum at 8 p.m. on Wednesday night as both teams continue their preparations for the Copa America in Uruguay in July.