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Hank Steinbrecher: Perseverance key to U.S. success

(Monday, December 29, 1997) -- Perseverance. It is the biggest test and the biggest obstacle to overcome when trying to qualify for a World Cup. No matter your situation, whether you are among the game's elite or whether you are a tiny country with little tradition, the key to getting into the World Cup is to persevere.

A team must persevere against its opponents. It must persevere against injuries. It must persevere against yellow cards, against difficult scheduling, against playing in front of hostile crowds and against time itself.

For the United States national team, its long road to the World Cup was no different. And now that the team has qualified for France '98 with a very convincing finish, I want to take a moment to thank every member of the team, from the behind-the-scenes administrators to the players and coaches, for their perseverance in achieving this important milestone.

Across their grueling two-round, 16-game qualification schedule, the team truly persevered. Losing just twice in 16 matches while posting an 8-2-6 record ranks among the great accomplishments in U.S. Soccer history. Looking at the results a little closer, one realizes that the team's only two losses came on the road in Costa Rica at Saprissa Stadium with, as Eric Wynalda so eloquently put it, "fans throwing batteries at us."

Now that's perseverance.

After the team's tough 1-1 draw at home against Jamaica, the players and coaches rallied, putting together three performances that solidified the USA’s place in its third consecutive World Cup. With everything against them in the biggest game of the year, the 10-player side came away with a crucial point at Mexico's raucous Guillermo Cañedo Stadium. The "golden point" was the first for the U.S. in 18 trips into the world's most populated city.

Again, perseverance and dedication toward a common goal saw the U.S. through.

Just seven days after its impressive Mexican match, the U.S. put together a dominating performance in Canada, winning 3-0 to become the first U.S. side to qualify for a World Cup with a game to spare. No small accomplishment. An impressive 4-2 defeat of El Salvador followed in the final game. A tribute to the entire team's preparation was that game featured eight or nine players who hadn't played regularly during qualifying.

In addition to our successful run to the World Cup, 1997 has also allowed us to share the excitement of seeing all of our national teams compete at the highest world levels. The women's national team dominated opponents from all over the globe, reaffirming itself as the best the world has to offer.

The under-17 and under-20 men's teams gained invaluable experience competing in their World Championships in Egypt and Malaysia, respectively. The under-20 women also competed internationally claiming the prestigious Nordic Cup against the best women's youth teams in the world.

Domestically, we shared the thrills of another memorable United States Youth Soccer association championship and saw the most successful U.S. Open Cup in history conclude with a tingling overtime and penalty kick match, symbolized by the refurbished Dewar Cup being presented to the champion Dallas Burn.

In a year in which U.S. Soccer's many arms were challenged to reach new heights, the entire organization did more than persevere. As whole, the Federation met each hurdle in its path and rose to unparalleled success.

Hank Steinbrecher is secretary-general and executive director of U.S. soccer and can be emailed at SOCFED@aol.com.

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