- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 6, 2002

It is now safe to believe.
The U.S. national soccer team, regarded as an underdog in the match and depleted by injury, yesterday stunned Portugal with its 3-2 victory in its World Cup opener in South Korea.
America's upset over the Portuguese, ranked No.5 in the world, already is being called the country's biggest soccer win since a 1950 World Cup victory over England, and touched off early-morning celebrations from coast to coast.
Locally, Summers Grill and Sports Bar in Arlington, one of the area's most popular spots for international soccer fans, fielded a packed house of more than 300 people for the game's 4:55 a.m. start. More than 200 more people who couldn't get in peered through a window to remain close to the revelry.
And minutes after the game, more than 50 people emptied out onto Wilson Boulevard and North Courthouse Road in Arlington, chanting "U-S-A" and waving American flags at passing cars. Similar scenes of euphoria were repeated throughout the D.C. area and across the country.
"It's just incredible, this win, this crowd, this event," said Joe Javidara, general manager of Summers. The establishment is showing every World Cup match live, even though most games start between 1:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. local time, and consistently is drawing large crowds. "People are just so excited, and it's no wonder. The U.S. now has an excellent shot of advancing."
After round-robin play in four-team groups, the top two teams in each of the eight groups advance into single elimination tournament play.
The U.S. team, ranked No. 13 in the world, has moved into the elimination rounds just twice before in World Cup play in 1994, when America played host to the event, and in 1930. The Americans lost all three of their early-round games in 1998's World Cup in France and returned home in disgrace.
Not only did the Americans beat the powerful Portuguese, but they did so in dramatic fashion. After scoring three goals in the match's first 36 minutes, the U.S. held off several late pushes by Portugal, which scored its second goal when U.S. defender Jeff Agoos inadvertently kicked the ball into his own net.
The U.S. team played without striker Clint Mathis and talented midfielder Claudio Reyna, both injured, and also lost midfielder Earnie Stewart to injury during the game.
"I think this victory will grab the attention of a lot of people in the United States," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "In the modern era, I think you could argue that this is the best victory that the United States has had."
ESPN, which aired yesterday's game on its ESPN2, will not have preliminary ratings on the match until later today. But the thrilling outcome already has prompted the network to schedule a re-airing of the match Saturday night on ESPN Classic.
World Cup ratings in the United States have varied in prior years, based on the host country and time zones involved. Expectations are not high this time around, given the late-night game times and Nielsen Media Research's noted troubles accounting for group viewership in bars and restaurants.
However, ESPN is pleased at some of the early feedback it's receiving. Ratings for games over the World Cup's first four days, while still a small fraction of nearly every other established sport in the United States, have increased 382 percent on ESPN2 and 58 percent on ESPN compared with the same time slots a year ago.
"We should do fairly well, certainly now," said ESPN spokesman Mac Nwulu. "There was quite a lot of interest in the U.S. team and we've now seen a considerable lift from that."
The frenzy over America's World Cup win contrasts strongly against the still-fledgling Major League Soccer. The American pro league, in its seventh year of play, continues to struggle to build fan support. It is supported primarily by only a few key investors, and loses more than $50 million a year. MLS, seeking to expand itself and soccer at large, controls the English-language TV rights for the World Cup.
Seeking to better manage the newfound U.S. soccer fever, Summers is applying for a permit to put a television outside its building for the overflow crowd. Others are similarly bracing for huge draws for America's next games, Monday at 2:30 a.m. against co-host South Korea and 7:30 a.m. next Friday against Poland.
"The interest in this team is now through the roof," Mr. Javidara said. "We're doing what we can to accommodate as many people as possible."
The American win also prompted bookmakers on both sides of the Atlantic to slash their odds of the U.S. team winning the entire World Cup something no team outside of Europe or South America has ever done from at least 200-to-1 to 100-to-1.
This article is based in part on wire service reports.


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