Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Yanks come marching in

The U.S. national soccer team is coming to Philadelphia for the first time since 1991.

The Yanks come marching in

Welcome to a historic week in Philadelphia sports.

This coming Saturday, the United States men's national soccer team will play here for the first time since 1991. Their match against Panama at Lincoln Financial Field will be a quarterfinal showdown in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the regional championship for North and Central American national teams. It will also be the second game of a doubleheader, with Canada facing Honduras in the first game.

We were really close to having the U.S. play Mexico, a game which would have easily made the doubleheader a sellout, after El Tri stumbled through its first two games and was in danger of finishing third in its group.

But against upstarts Guadeloupe, Mexico did what it was supposed to and won 2-0. So both those teams are heading to Dallas along with Costa Rica and Haiti, and Panama comes here.

(Someone tell Carlos Ruiz.)

Anyway, in honor of the big game this weekend, I'll be digging into the Inquirer and Daily News archives all week to take a look back at the U.S. team's previous visits here.

There have not been very many. At all. It's surprising in a way, because you'd think that America's birthplace would have been an ideal place for the national team to visit.

But the AstroTurf at Veterans Stadium and Franklin Field meant that official games couldn't happen. Now we have the Linc, and its grass surface has brought us soccer games a number of times since the venue opened in 2003.

There's been one gaping hole, though, and it will be filled this coming Saturday.

So let's take a look back. First up is the U.S.' 2-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Veterans Stadium on August 2, 1991. I got the microfilm of the front page of the Inquirer sports section and the back page of the Daily News from the day after the game. I also got the text of the game stories from both papers. You can see it all below.

Tomorrow, I'll post the archive coverage of the previous time the U.S. visited, a 1-0 win over Ukranian side Dnepr at Franklin Field on August 25, 1989.

I leave you with a trivia question: How many times total has the U.S. national team played in Philadelphia? The first person to answer correctly and cite all the games might win a prize, if I can find one.

Anyway, enjoy this week and our trip into the history books.

In the photo, taken by Jerry Lodriguss, Brian Quinn of the U.S. (front) and John Sheridan of Sheffield Wednesday go up for a loose ball.

U.S. BEATS SLUGGISH SHEFFIELD IN EXHIBITION

By Mike Jensen, Inquirer Staff Writer

Maybe it was the AstroTurf. Maybe it was the American crowd, which actually did the wave for five entire spine-tingling minutes. Maybe Sheffield Wednesday is more concerned with the English League season that starts in two weeks.

Or maybe the United States national soccer team is slowly gaining confidence under new coach Bora Milutinovic.

Whatever the reason, the U.S. team dominated the second half to defeat Sheffield Wednesday, 2-0, in an exhibition last night before 44,261 mostly youthful fans at Veterans Stadium.

The attendance broke the Vet soccer -attendance record of 24,093, set May 18, 1974, in the North American Soccer League home opener for the Philadelphia Atoms.

More important to local organizers, who are hoping to host some World Cup games in 1994, it was the sixth-largest crowd ever to see the national team play in this country.

It was also the largest American crowd ever to attend a game between the United States and a foreign club team, or non-national team. The old record of 43,356 was set when the United States played Dnepr, a Soviet professional team, at Franklin Field in 1989.

It also may have been a special night for American John Harkes, who grew up in Kearny, N.J., played for the United States in the World Cup last year, and now handles the right midfield for Wednesday. It certainly was a weird night for him.

Every time Harkes looked up, he saw the opposing goalkeeper, Tony Meola, who also grew up in Kearny and was coached at one time by Harkes' dad, a former Scottish semi-pro.

Harkes' best moment in the game came when he rifled a shot with his left foot that just cleared the crossbar from about 25 yards out.

"I saw him looking back at me," Harkes said, smiling. "I know Tony always likes to go for the far post, so I tried to get him near-post. We had a couple of snarls at each other. "

And some laughs, Harkes said.

"In the second half, he came running out and was yelling at one of his teammates.

"I said, 'Shut up! ' " Harkes then imitated how he saw Meola whip his head around. "He just started cracking up laughing. "

When it was over, Harkes clapped for the U.S. team, then shared a long hug with American midfielder Paul Caligiuri, who had been marking him all game.

"You usually come out and say, all right, that's my crowd," said Harkes, who was not used to hearing "USA, USA," and knowing that that wasn't a cheer for him. "I feel a bit weird. "

It was the sixth straight victory for the United States, which hasn't lost since a May 19 match against Argentina, and gained new respect by defeating Mexico on the way to a championship in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in Los Angeles last month.

Wednesday - named for the day of the week on which it played in the 19th century - will be in the English First Division when its season starts. Last night, it could get nothing going.

Instead, the United States' Hugo Perez showed the ball-handling skills he is known for; he set up both goals. Perez was listed as a forward last night, but he was all over the field, and laughed at the description. "They have to call me something," he said.

Just seven minutes into the second half, Perez showed why he should have been on last year's World Cup squad.

The Salvadoran-born Perez, , who was left off the national team by former coach Bob Gansler, but reinvited by Milutinovic earlier this year, handled a pass from Hendrig Gutierrez, who was making his international debut.

Perez, about 25 yards out, led Bruce Murray perfectly, and Murray, who has scored more international goals than any other American, beat a defender to the ball and pushed it into the right side of the net from 12 yards out.

The win was assured 10 minutes later when Perez nudged a pass over to Brian Quinn, whose shot from 30 yards out couldn't have been more than an inch inside the left post.

Afterward, Perez talked of being left off the World Cup team.

"Very bad feeling. Very bad feeling," Perez said. "I don't want to wish anybody that feeling. There's always bad times, you know? But after the bad times come the good times. "

And that came when Bora, the Yugoslavian-born former coach of the Mexican and Costa Rican World Cup teams, took over the U.S. team.

"When Bora got the job," Perez said, "I looked up at the sky and said, 'Thank you, God.' "

 

The photo, taken by Bob Laramie, includes U.S. national team midfielder Hugo Perez (center) and Sheffield Wednesday's American midfielder John Harkes (right).

THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
PLAYER WHO ONCE TURNED DOWN SHEFFIELD PACT LIFTS U.S. AT VET

by Ted Silary, Daily News Sports Writer

Sheffield Wednesday never got the chance to benefit from Bruce Murray's soccer abilities.

However, last season's English League Cup champions have now been stung by them.

Murray, a midfielder from Germantown, Md., last night scored the only necessary goal as the U.S. national team surprised Sheffield, 2-0, before 44,261 enthusiastic fans at Veterans Stadium.

The crowd, the seventh-largest to ever see the national team play in the United States, should do wonders for Philadelphia's chances of helping to host the 1994 World Cup. Twelve cities will receive games. Roughly 18 are considered to have legitimate shots and the National League yesterday said the Phillies could stay on the road for as many as 18 days if Philly's bid is successful.

As for Murray's on-target shot, it came in the game's 52nd minute.

At the 18, just as he employed a quick burst of speed to slip behind defender Nigel Pearson, Murray accepted a through pass from forward Hugo Perez and used his left foot to beat backup goalkeeper Chris Turner from 12 yards out.

The goal had nothing to do with revenge, just satisfaction.

In 1988, before the Olympics, Murray said he traveled to England and was offered a contract by Sheffield. Instead of signing, Murray opted to remain with the U.S. team - he's its all-time leading scorer - and compete in Seoul, South Korea. He then hooked up with F.C. Luzern, of Switzerland.

"This is good, because I knew a couple of the guys who were still out there," Murray said. "They were nice to me. Players are players. There's no grudges. It was just a better opportunity for me to go to Switzerland.

"The only thing this does is convince them that they were right in offering me a contract. "

Early into the scoring play, Murray sensed it had the right stuff.

"If you execute it right, you can tell it's going to be . . . if not a goal, at least a really serious chance," he said. "That's the kind of change that's been made (under new coach Bora Milutinovic). Guys coming from behind. Getting into space and scoring goals.

"In the first half, we played really poorly. Astroturf is a difficult surface to get used to. We thought we had a chance (to play longball) because English teams play four across in the back with no one deep. The problem is, the ball takes off on Astroturf. You can't really gauge it. In the first half, it was like, 'Here it goes again. The ball's going out of bounds. The fans are getting impatient . . . ' Then we thought, well, we have to get in the middle and play some one-twos. Get through that way. "

When Murray mentioned the word impatient, he could have substituted the phrase bored to tears.

As the throng proved later on, it was waiting for even the slightest excuse to make noise, express pride and impress the World Cup '94 committee. But in the first 35 minutes, especially, a banner draped over a railing in front of the lower north stands - Boramania, it read in honor of the new life Milutinovic has pumped into the team - seemed particularly out of place.

Boringmania was more like it.

The U.S. team was credited with just two shots in the entire first half. Brian Quinn got off a respectable 25-yarder with 11 minutes left and Murray caused concern for Sheffield on a head ball from 10 yards about five minutes later.

Similarly, Murray's goal provided the first real action of the second half. It also caused the Vet, finally, to come alive.

The atmosphere became even more charged in the 62nd minute, when Quinn, a midfielder from Claremont, Calif., converted a beautiful, 30-yard, leftfooted blast after taking a sideways feed from Perez. The ball whizzed past Turner, the second-half replacement for Kevin Pressman, just inside the left post.

"That was the shot of Brian's life," said John Harkes, the Kearny, N.J., native, and one-time U.S. star, who is playing these days for Sheffield.

With 16 minutes left, the public address announcer asked the fans to show, indeed, that they want the World Cup to come to Philly in '94. The response was a prolonged standing ovation. Later came a four-times-around wave and chants of U-S-A!

The U.S. team is riding high. Last month in Los Angeles, five straight wins yielded the CONCACAF Gold Cup championship; the tournament brought together 34 countries in North and Central America and the Caribbean. Meanwhile, in the World Series of Soccer , which began last March 9 in Tampa, Fla., the U.S. is 4-1-4. Three games remain.

Oh, yes. And smile when you call last night's result an upset, even though the U.S. team is minus four prominent players - Harkes, Tab Ramos, John Doyle and Peter Vermes, of Delran, N.J. - because of overseas commitments.

"We really came out here to win this game," Murray said. "I'm not going to degrade Sheffield Wednesday, but they're a Second Division English team that just got promoted. We won the CONCACAF championship. Knocked off Mexico. You tell me. I think we're the favorites tonight.

"If we come out and lose tonight, we take a step backward. We have to keep going forward."

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
About this blog
Soft Pretzel Logic is Philly.com's college sports blog, with a primary focus on the University of Pennsylvania. You'll also see coverage of the Big 5, other major college sports events in the region, and the annual Penn Relays track and field meet.

Jonathan Tannenwald Sports Producer
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