Continuing the soccer talk for another day.
Fifteen years ago today, February 7, 1998, I attended a match between the USA and Costa Rica in the Gold Cup, a tournament for teams from CONCACAF along with invitees (in that case, Brazil). The match was played at the Oakland Coliseum. The winner would advance to the semi-finals. More than 36,000 fans were in attendance.
The U.S. starting eleven (this will bring back memories for some): Brad Friedel, Eddie Pope, Frankie Hejduk, Jeff Agoos, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Cobi Jones, John Harkes, Roy Wegerle, Joe Max Moore, and Eric Wynalda. In the second half, the U.S. brought in all three subs: Mike Burns, Brian McBride, and Preki.
Preki was an interesting player. His full name was Predrag Radosavljević. Born in Belgrade (then of Yugoslavia, now of Serbia), Preki spent a few seasons in England in the early 90s, but he made his name in America playing indoor soccer. His record indoors was astonishing: 389 goals in 370 matches. He became a U.S. citizen and was an original member of MLS. By the time he made his first appearance for the U.S. national team, he was well into his 30s.
The match we saw was even, 1-1, after a second-half Costa Rican goal offset an early goal by Eddie Pope for the United States. With just over 20 minutes to go, Preki came in for Balboa. Nine minutes later:
2-1 to the USA, which is how it ended.
You can see what Preki brought to the game in that clip, but you can also see his weak spot. Preki was an extreme one-footed player: his left foot was deadly, his right foot not so much. He spent an entire career making space for that left foot, and you’d think eventually teams would figure that out and force him to use the right foot. But he scored close to 500 goals in various competitions over the years, so I guess not every opponent was paying attention.
A few days later, the U.S. took on Brazil in a semi-final match in Los Angeles. The U.S. lineup was much the same as for Costa Rica, the only changes being Mike Burns for Balboa, and, most importantly, Kasey Keller in goal in place of Friedel. Up to that point, the U.S. had never beaten Brazil.
Keller put on one of the great displays of goalkeeping, by anybody, anywhere. An East Coast synth-pop band called Barcelona penned a tune called “Kasey Keller” for their album Zero One Infinity (sample lyric: “You won’t get in, it’s Brazil!”). The great Brazilian Romário, who scored three goals in the tournament and who claimed to have scored 1000 goals in his career, said it was the best performance by a goalkeeper he had ever seen:
(play-by-play from the great Jorge Ramos)
Thanks largely to Keller, the match was scoreless. At the 60-minute mark, Preki was introduced as a substitute, and we found out that Brazil hadn’t done their homework:
Final score: USA 1, Brazil 0.
Funny thing is, I attended the Costa Rica match, but I don’t remember much about it, although I do recall the excitement of Preki’s goal. But I remember that Brazil match very well, despite the fact that I was watching on TV. Our TV was in the bedroom in those days, and I was sitting on the edge of the bed while my wife … well, I don’t know what she was doing, probably reading, but she was there, too. When Preki scored that goal, I shouted out loud before I could catch myself, and rolled over backwards on the bed. I seem to remember explaining to my wife that what had happened wasn’t an everyday occurrence.