AMERICANS love a winner, as we keep hearing. Even better than that, they like a scrapper who comes back to defy the odds. The Swiss team may not have represented the most daunting challenge to the ambitions of Bora Milutinovic's United States team when Group A opened in the hothouse atmosphere of the Pontiac Silverdome yesterday, but the fact that the home boys came from behind to draw the first indoor match in the World Cup's history kept alive the crowd's interest in an otherwise very moderate contest.
A pair of finely taken goals by Georges Bregy for Switzerland and Eric Wynalda for the US seemed to belong to another match. Scored in the seven minutes before half-time, they would have done credit to Platini or Zico.
Switzerland took the lead after 38 minutes when Thomas Dooley brought down Alain Sutter on the edge of the area, Bregy bending the ball carefully around Tony Meola and inside the far post. But a minute before the break Wynalda, felled by Sforza, got up to fire the ball with equally impeccable accuracy just inside the angle of bar and near post from 25 yards.
Such artistry was out of context with a contest which would have persuaded no one to take these two countries' future prospects seriously. Switzerland, the calmer of the two sides and the more intent on establishing a consistent rhythm, relied heavily on their Sion back four to absorb the threat of Wynalda and Ernie Stewart, and later of Roy Wegerle and Cobi Jones, the smaller, swifter men who replaced the starting front- runners in the second half. But for all the passionate intensity of their own last-ditch defending, the US team too often looked ponderous and unimaginative.
It was hot and sticky beneath the canopy of the Silverdome, but the conditions were nothing like as testing as those experienced by Germany and Bolivia under the blazing Chicago sun in the opening match of the tournament on Friday.
Nerves and technical deficiencies were the reasons for the low quality of this match. The arrival of the tow-headed Jones gave Wegerle a speedier partner up front for the last 10 minutes, but the Swiss defence held firm as the US raised the tempo in a final attempt to start their campaign with a home win. All they achieved was a booking for John Harkes, who joined Dominique Herr in the referee's notebook for an over-enthusiastic challenge on Chapuisat. Enthusiasm apart, Colombia and Romania will have seen little to persuade them to cancel their arrangements for the second phase.
In the longer term, football in the US will have to consider the nature of its constituency. If you wanted proof that soccer in the United States is a game of the white middle classes, this was the occasion. The Motor City has a large and active black population, but among the 77,000 present yesterday only the colours of their flags and face-paint distinguished the Americans from the Swiss supporters. If the US is serious about this soccer business, it will need to get Afro-Americans on its side, in every sense.Reuse content