His team outrun and outplayed by Costa Rica, Steve Sampson remains certain the United States will be at next year’s World Cup. And Costa Rica will be right there as well.
“You have just watched two teams that will be playing in France,” the U.S. coach said Sunday after the American lost to Costa Rica 3-2, their first defeat in the final round of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup.
Sampson had said he hoped to escape with a tie and one point. And for a while, it looked as if he would get his wish.
Roy Lassiter, who played professionally in Costa Rica and was booed when he entered the game in the second half, tied it 2-2 in the 68th minute. Then Ronald Gomez struck 8 minutes later, and Costa Rica had its victory.
“We had that one point in our hands … we lost it,” Sampson said. “We tried to hang on and cover the spaces on defense, but their speed was too much.”
The United States, Costa Rica and Mexico are tied with four points in the six-team group, but the Americans (1-1-1) have played three games and Mexico and Costa Rica (both 1-0-1) two each. The top three teams in the North and Central American and Caribbean region advance to the 32-team tournament in France next summer.
Jamaica (0-0-1) is fourth in the group, followed by El Salvador (0-0) and Canada (0-2). Each team plays 10 games, a home-and-home series with its five opponents, with the qualifying round to end Nov. 16.
Before a jubilant crowd of 20,000 at Saprissa Stadium, Gomez scored with 14 minutes left, tipping in a clearing attempt by defender Mike Burns. Harold Wallace picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area, faked defender Alexi Lalas and then chipped a cross that Burns kicked onto the foot of Gomez at the near post.
The goal was a crusher for the United States, which seemed to have regained command after Lassiter’s goal. The U.S. striker had intercepted a pass from Mauricio Solis to Gomez. Then he worked past two defenders at the top of the penalty area and beat goalkeeper Hermidio Barrantes to the far side.
The United States was missing Ernie Stewart, serving a one-game suspension for accumulating two yellow cards. Cobi Jones received his second yellow card and will miss the Americans’ game against Mexico on April 20 at Foxboro, Mass.
Hernan Medford of Costa Rica opened the scoring in the 10th minute, ending a five-game shutout streak for U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller. Eric Wynalda tied it in the 24th minute with his record 30th international goal for the U.S.
Eight minutes later, Mauricio Solis dribbled down the middle of the field and beat Keller with a 35-yard shot into the upper left corner to make it 2-1.
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