With the opening of the World Cup less than two weeks away, nobody, not even the players or their coach, knows just what to expect of the United States team.
Earlier this year, the Americans lost 2-1 to Iceland and tied Moldova 1-1, drab showings against teams that won't be mistaken for international soccer powers.The Americans wrapped up international play with a 5-5-8 record this year, including a 2-3-7 mark against other World Cup teams. Those matches, however, were before the United States got some of its best players back from pro leagues in other countries. And coach Bora Milutinovic has never seemed to put much stock in the outcome of exhibition games, anyway.
The full 1994 American team won't play together for the first time until the World Cup opener on June 18 against Switzerland in the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Americans have had all their best players with the team for just nine games since the last World Cup in 1990, and in those matches, the Americans went 7-1-1, beating England, Ireland and Portugal and tying Italy. The defeat was by defending World Cup champion Germany.
And the United States begins the 1994 World Cup coming off probably its best game of the year, a 1-0 victory over Mexico on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, site of the semifinal and championship games.
Roy Wegerle, who scored the goal that gave the United States just its fourth victory over Mexico in 42 meetings, said: "This is a great morale booster. If we had lost, people would have just shrugged their shoulders. This will send waves around the world."
Milutinovic, although still cautious with his words, obviously was pleased with the win over Mexico, which was played before a crowd of 91,123, the largest ever to see the U.S. team play at home.
At home seemed almost a misnomer, though, as at least 90 percent of the fans appeared to be for the visitors, and the Americans were booed roundly when they were introduced.
"This should give us confidence," Milutinovic said. "We were able to beat a team as competitive as Mexico under adverse circumstances (the Mexico-partisan crowd). Hopefully this will be a good sign. If we put forth this kind of effort, it will take a great effort by another team to beat us."
Eric Wynalda, who recently returned from playing in Germany, made the play of the game when he took a long pass from Thomas Dooley, another veteran of the German leagues, and fought his way past three defenders down the left side of the box.
When Mexican goalie Jorge Campos shifted over to that side, Wynalda rolled a perfect pass back to Wegerle, who was following the play and shot into a virtually open net. His goal came seven minutes into the second half.
The United States goes into the World Cup as a longshot, but Wegerle said the team may be underrated.