Playing with heart and grit, and dictating the early tempo, Guatemala had the home fans, even though home was some 1,800 miles away.
That explains the muted response in the locker room after the United States’ 2-0 victory over Guatemala in a World Cup qualifying game Sunday.
“It’s still so frustrating,” U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “Being an American playing in your nation’s capital and to have almost more support for the opposition.”
Eric Wynalda and Brian McBride scored in the second half to secure the victory and send most of the fans at RFK Stadium home disappointed. That’s because Americans in the boisterous crowd of 30,082 appeared to be outnumbered 2-to-1 by Guatemalans, many waving blue and white flags and chanting their country’s name.
“I don’t want to get into immigration issues, but if someone wants to be an American, then let him in the country and let him be an American,” Keller said.
“If they want to come into the country and still be a Guatemalan, then it gets a little frustrating. I don’t think that many people flew in from Guatemala to support them.”
U.S. coach Steve Sampson suggested many fans stayed home to watch the Washington Redskins game at Buffalo later in the day.
“We have to take a very good look at competing with the NFL,” he said. “We need to stop playing games opposite the NFL so we can get a home crowd.”
The Guatemalans also were playing in memory of 84 compatriots who died in a stadium stampede in Guatemala City on Oct. 16 before a scheduled game against Costa Rica. The players, their first game since the tragedy, wore black ribbons on their uniform sleeves, and were angry because the moment of silence held before kickoff was so brief they didn’t realize it had happened.
“We worked on it psychologically,” defender Martin Machon said. “We took (the tragedy) as motivation to try to give everything to play hard for all the families, but not to be preoccupied with it.”
The Guatemalans committed 18 fouls and left Americans grimacing numerous times. The tactics threw the U.S. team off its game in the first half.
“Any time something like that happens, they carry it on their shoulders,” Wynalda said, referring to the tragedy. “That added to their intensity - some of it came out in dirty play - but you can’t hold it against them.”
It was the first game for the United States (1-0-0) in the long road to the 1998 World Cup in France. The Americans play Trinidad and Tobago in Richmond, Va., next Sunday. Guatemala fell to 0-1-1.
Wynalda gave the U.S. the lead when he stopped Claudio Reyna’s left-wing cross with his right leg, then kicked the ball past goalkeeper Edgar Estrada with his left foot from 10 yards out in the 55th minute.
It was Wynalda’s eighth goal in his last 10 games with the U.S. team. He has 26 goals in international play, the all-time leader among U.S. players.
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