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LASSITER THE SPARK U.S. NEEDS

Steve Sampson and his boys came into the weekend just hoping to survive. They came out of it with a victory over a perennial European power and maybe a new regular teammate.

Roy Lassiter, who had only played one game with the national team before the week - and that back in 1992 - scored on a sharp header in the 68th minute Sunday, giving the U.S. national team a 2-1 victory over 30-time Portuguese league champion Benfica and third place in the exhibition Parmalat Cup.It was a ray of sunshine in what was expected to be a gloomy weekend for Sampson. After being promoted from interim to full-time coach on Wednesday, he was left with less than half his usual starters, who had been recalled to their European or Latin American clubs.

"If I don't do it now, I may never have the chance to do it again," said 26-year-old Lassiter, who nearly made the trip to the Copa America but was promised by Sampson that he would play here. "Scoring the goal makes me feel like I'm in now."

Lassiter actually took a back seat to the star of the day, European player of the year Hristo Stoichkov, who scored two goals and set up third to lead Italian first-division club Parma to a dominating 3-1 victory over Boca Juniors of Argentina in the championship match.

Lassiter last had his chance as a substitute in a 1-0 loss to the Commonwealth of Independent States (the disassembled Soviet Union) on Jan. 25, 1992. During a practice session, he broke his ankle and never got a chance to return.

For the last three years, he has toiled in the Costa Rican first division with Turribaba, Carmen and most recently with Alajuela.

His triumphant return was a joy for not only him, but a team that has a reputation for being thin after its starting 11.

"I'm so happy that Roy got a goal," defender Alexi Lalas said. "It's great for the new guys to come in and generate some type of attack and give us the depth that we have been lacking."

After starting a depleted 11 in Friday night's 2-1 loss to Parma, Sampson had even less to work with Sunday, losing Mike Sorber, who was recalled by his club UNAM to begin training for the Mexican season.

The Americans, however, pushed forward from the start and took the lead in the 13th minute when Frank Klopas converted a penalty, awarded when Luis Gustavo was called for a handball.