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Balboa enjoys a homecoming. U.S. escapes with 2-2 tie with Paraguay.

SAN DIEGO (Saturday, March 14, 1998) -- United States central defender Marcelo Balboa enjoyed a momentous afternoon today.

Playing in his hometown, Balboa netted a spectacular diving header in the 50th minute, the highlight of a 2-2 draw with Paraguay in a friendly match before 15,253 at Qualcomm Stadium. With his 126th full international appearance, Balboa also became the third most-capped man in the world, surpassing former England goalkeeper Peter Shilton.

With the score tied at 1, fellow defender Alexi Lalas broke free along the left perimeter of the penalty area before centering a pass. Balboa went flat on his stomach to head the ball from six inches off the ground 12 yards into the top left corner.

"Finally! It’s taken another 26 games to score a goal," said Balboa who last found net during his 100th cap. "Today was special. Any time you score a goal at home, it’s nice."

The Americans probably should have escaped with a victory, but had to settle with the tie following Francisco Arce’s penalty kick in the 75th minute. Thomas Gonzalez clearly settled a ball in the box with his left arm, but when there was no call, he was alone deep in the box and U.S. goalkeeper Juergen Sommer tripped him, leading to the penalty call.

Paraguay, the second-place finisher behind Argentina in South American World Cup qualifying, opened the scoring on a 15th minute goal by Denis Caniza, made possible by a cross by midfielder Miguel Benitez who beat a weak effort by defender Greg Vanney to the right end line before crossing the ball to his unmarked teammate.

The U.S. equalized six minutes when midfielder Chad Deering, who was particularly impressive in his first appearance this year, drilled Eric Wynalda’s inswinging right side cross 10 yards into the low right corner for his first international goal in six caps.

Deering has been so distant from the American World Cup preparations, his biography is not even included in the U.S. press guide.

"Maybe (Deering) earned himself a World Cup spot today," said U.S. coach Steve Sampson. "He showed he can play an attacking midfielder as well as a defensive midfielder. He, paired up with Claudia Reyna (in the central midfield) may be an intelligent approach since they play together at Wolfburg (in Germany)."

The U.S. team wore black arm bands in memory of Mirjana Soskic, the wife of U.S. goalkeeper coach Milutin (Sole) Soskic, who passed away Friday morning after a long bout with cancer. She is also survived by two sons, Marko and Miljan.

United States 2, Paraguay 2

Lineups: USA - Juergen Sommer, Mike Burns, Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Greg Vanney, Frankie Hejduk, Mike Sorber (Joe-Max Moore 46), Chad Deering, Cobi Jones, David Wagner (Brian Maisonneuve 64), Eric Wynalda (Preki Radosavljevic 74). Paraguay - Ruben Ruiz Diaz, Francisco Arce, Catalino Rivarola, Carlos Gamarra, Celso Ayala, Roberto Acuna, Julio Cesar Enciso, Edgar Aguilera (Julio Yegras 56), Denis Caniza, Richart Baez (Thomas Gonzalez 14), Miguel Benitez (Carlos Santos 88).

Scoring: Paraguay- Caniza (Benitez) 15th minute; United States - Deering (Wynalda) 21; United States - Balboa (Lalas) 50; Paraguay -- Arce (penalty kick) 75. Shots: United States 17, Paraguay 8. Saves: United States 2, Paraguay 7. Corner kicks: United States 6, Paraguay 8. Fouls: United States 19, Paraguay 21. Offsides: United States 2. Paraguay 1. Yellow card cautions: USA - Moore 66. Vanney 76. Paraguay - Ayala 66, Diaz 76, Yegros, injury time.

Referee: Leon Padro Borja (Mexico). Assistant referees: Miguel Ramos Rizo (Mexico), Alejandro Cruz Rios (Mexico). Attendance (Qualcomm Stadium): 15,253. (weather: 66 degrees, breezy, overcast.)