- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002


American soccer reached its all-time zenith yesterday.

Thanks to quick counter-attacks that resulted in goals from John McBride and Landon Donovan, the United States defeated Mexico and reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup.

In a sport that struggles for recognition in the United States but which is almost a religion around the rest of the planet, the Americans made the kind of impact that could not be ignored.

"We are doing something special here," said U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel. "We hope all the Americans can feel and recognize what an accomplishment this is."

After the United States recorded a 2-0 victory over its old rival in Jeonju, South Korea, Brazil won by the same score against Belgium. Although Brazil was heavily favored, it was on its heels most of the evening in Kobe, Japan, before Rivaldo finally scored in the 67th minute.

On Friday, the Americans will be a large underdog when they meet Germany in the quarterfinals, but if they can somehow pull off a win in that one, they would be two victories away from the unthinkable.

Although the United States played in the semifinals of the first World Cup in 1930, there were only 13 countries in that tournament and a team reached the semifinals by winning one of four groups. The Americans lost to Argentina in the semifinals that year, 6-1, and since then the United States had won just two World Cup matches prior to this competition.

The victory over Mexico was unexpected because of the way the United States finished group play an uninspired 3-1 loss to Poland. It took an assist by South Korea, which beat Portugal in their final group encounter, for the Americans to back into the second round.

"I don't know if we were lucky," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "We beat the winner [Mexico] of the group with Italy in it. We beat one of the top five teams in the world [Portugal]. We were the only team to get a point against Korea, the host country.

"We've had some impressive results in this World Cup. I wouldn't call that lucky, I think we have a good team. We will play a great team in Germany."

McBride scored in the eighth minute to give the United States the early momentum. Claudio Reyna rushed down the right side and just as he was reaching the end line crossed to John Wolff. A quick pass from Wolff back to McBride was perfect and McBride powered it home from nine yards out.

Donovan's goal came on a perfect header in the 65th minute on a cross from Eddie Lewis.

Both goals came on counter attacks as Mexico held the ball for two-thirds of the game. But the well-organized defense and another outstanding game from Friedel kept the Mexicans off the board.

Mexico's biggest chances came early in the second half on a pair of corner kicks.

The first one seemed certain to lead to a goal when both Braulio Luna and Salvador Carmona found themselves in front of an empty net. But they hesitated each one apparently thinking the other was going to finish. That gave time for the defense to recover.

And on the ensuing corner kick, American Gregg Berhalter grabbed an opponent's shirt in the box without being called for a penalty.

Two minutes later, O'Brien clearly used his hand to help clear the ball, which went undetected by Portuguese referee Vitor Pereira.

"We had good possession of the ball for 90 minutes," said Mexico coach Javier Aguirre. "We moved at a quick pace, but we didn't manage to get good results. In the first round, we did well. Italy, Ecuador and Croatia were all teams who were eager to play Mexico. With the United States, it was more difficult. They have tremendous speed."

The game took on a very physical nature in the final minutes with five yellow cards being handed out in quick succession and Mexico's Rafael Marquez being sent off in the 87th minute.

"It's a rivalry," Arena said. "We know each other. There's been a lot of bad blood over the years. But when the game's over, we're friends again. Mexico is a great team and I'm proud of my guys. And it's a great day for U.S. soccer."

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