Seventeen times, the United States had played against Mexico in Mexico City. Seventeen times, the United States had lost.

That's why the Americans were ecstatic over Sunday's scoreless tie in a World Cup qualifier, which gave them a much needed point in the tournament to qualify for the 1998 World Cup in France."We consider this a golden point," said a beaming U.S. coach Steve Sampson. "It's very important now that we maintain the discipline and unity that we displayed in this game."

With the tie, the United States moved into a commanding position for a World Cup berth with a tie next Sunday at Canada. The Americans play their final game against El Salvador on Nov. 16 at Foxboro, Mass.

"I think anybody would be happy with one point coming to Mexico," U.S. forward Eric Wynalda said. "It's a very difficult place to play."

In 17 previous games against Mexico in Mexico City since 1937, the Americans had been outscored 69-13.

For Mexico, the tie gave it the point it needed to mathematically qualify for the World Cup. But the loss to the Americans was humiliating, especially at home.

"None of us is as happy as we should be," Mexican coach Bora Milutinovic said. "But after all, we are in first place."

As the second half of the game proceeded with no score, fans began chanting obscenely for the ouster of Bora. The Serbian-born coach led Mexico to a spot in the 1986 World Cup and was the U.S. coach in the 1994 tournament, when Sampson was his assistant.

"If we're going to play like this in the World Cup, we shouldn't even go," said Patricia Toris, a 24-year-old secretary who painted her face red, white and green - the colors of the Mexican flag - for the game.

"We don't want Bora in Mexico any more," said Arturo Ceballos, a 17-year-old student.

Bora was defensive at a postgame news conference, threatening to walk out after a Mexican reporter asked if the game was fixed. "A soccer coach always keeps his suitcase packed," he said.

With the tie, Mexico (4-0-4) became the 22nd country to clinch a spot for the 32-nation World Cup in France. It leads the six-team finals of soccer's North and Central American and Caribbean region with 16 points. Jamaica (3-2-3), which plays at El Salvador next Sunday, is second with 12 points and the United States (2-1-5) is third with 11.

The top three teams will qualify, which means the Americans are in good position to advance to the tournament for the third straight time. El Salvador (2-3-3) is fourth with nine points, followed by Costa Rica (2-4-2) and Canada (1-4-3).

The Americans played the final 58 minutes one man short. Defender Jeff Agoos was ejected for elbowing Pavel Pardo in the neck after Pardo had hit Agoos in the back.

After the ejection, the Americans played a defensive game, often clearing the ball past midfield to ease the pressure.

"You would have seen a lot more offensive playing by us if we didn't get the red card," said U.S. midfielder Cobi Jones.

Mexico dominated play but many of its shots were off the mark, giving U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel a relatively calm afternoon.

Thomas Dooley had the best scoring chance in the game, hitting the post in the 33rd minute.

"I think it was a tremendous result for us," Wynalda said, "especially with 10 men."

NOTES: In Sunday's only other qualifier, the United Arab Emirates may have cost itself a spot in the tournament with a scoreless tie against visiting Uzbekistan. The tie moved Japan (2-1-4), which beat South Korea 2-0 Saturday, into second place in Asia Group B ahead of the UAE (2-2-2). South Korea (5-1-1) has clinched first and a spot in the tournament, and the second-place team plays the Group A runner-up for a spot in the World Cup. Japan would clinch a playoff spot if the UAE fails to beat South Korea on Friday night. If the UAE wins that one, Japan needs a win against Kazakstan the following day.