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Wolff's second-half strike, fortunate 'no calls' allow U.S. 1-0 triumph over Costa Rica, large lead in CONCACAF standings.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Wednesday, April 25, 2001) -- The United States men can no longer complain about being robbed in Costa Rica.

World Cup Qualifying
CONCACAF 2001
Team W L T GF GA Pts
United States 3 0 0 5 1 9
Costa Rica 1 1 1 5 3 4
Mexico 1 1 1 5 3 4
Jamaica 1 1 1 2 5 4
Honduras 0 1 2 4 5 2
Trinidad Tobago 0 2 1 1 5 1
Each nation plays 10 games

Wedneday's games
United States 1, Costa Rica 0
Jamaica 1, Honduras 1
Trinidad & Tobago 1, Mexico 1

Last July 23, Costa Rica prevailed 2-1 on a penalty kick in the third minute of injury time, following a phantom handball call in a CONCACAF semifinal-round World Cup qualifying match.

Tonight, twice the Americans could have been cited for handling the ball in costly situations. Neither potential infraction was whistled, however, including on Josh Wolff’s goal which gave the U.S. a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica before 37,319 at Arrowhead Stadium and a commanding lead in the final qualifying hexagonal.

With three of the 10 rounds of CONCACAF final-round qualifying complete, the U.S. (3-0) has a commanding five-point lead in the standings over Costa Rica, Mexico and Jamaica. Berths in the 2002 World Cup go to the top three finishers of this region which includes North America, Central America and the Caribbean.

"The big picture is that we still haven't qualified for the World Cup, but I don't think we could have laid out a better picture than the one we have with nine points after three games," said U.S. head coach Bruce Arena, whose record in qualifiers improved to 6-1-2. "They were tough to break down, and we talked at halftime about how we had to jump on any kind of chance we got, which we did."

The winning sequence began when Ticos defender Reynaldo Parks made a fine play, stripping Wolff in the right side of the penalty area for the first of two Jeff Agoos corner kicks. On the second, the ball was cleared back to the top right corner of the box where a hustling Agoos volleyed it back in. Six yards from the center of the goal, midfielder Clint Mathis went up with Parks for a header. The ball glanced off Mathis head, hit the inside of his left elbow, and as his arm swung, redirected of his hand to the right post where Wolff buried a three yard shot with his left foot for his second winner in the last three American qualifiers.

There certainly was no intent by Mathis to handle the ball, but the fact remained that the ball twice hit his arm and was batted into Wolff’s path. "I don't think it hit my hand," Mathis said. "I don't remember it. Any time the ball is in the box you do whatever you can to fight for it and get a touch on it and anything can happen. The ball just happened to bounce in our favor right to Josh, and he did well to tuck it away."

The U.S. was also fortunate there was not a hand-ball call on Jeff Agoos in the 24th minute. On a quick Tico counterattack, Hernan Medford touched left to Carlos Castro who lifted a pass in the direction of star striker Paulo Wanchope streaking down the center. The ball skipped off the head of defender Carlos Llamosa and Agoos, 25 yards out, raised his left arm -- apparently intentionally -- to tip the ball away from Wanchope who likely would have been in alone on goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

If referee Jorge Luis Larrionda of Uruguay ruled Agoos’ action was intentional, the veteran defender would have been sent off with a red card, leaving the U.S. with 10 players thus drastically changing the game’s dynamic.

"We've talked about how you can be lucky and all," Arena said. "You can have a home-field advantage, but you still have to play well. If we're lousy, we are not going to get three points. So you have to give the team credit, they have played quite well."

Wolff thought he had a goal in the 16th minute when he took a pass from playmaker Claudio Reyna deep in the left side of the box and flicked a shot with the outside of his right foot over charging keeper Erick Lonnis. The ball bounced a yard in front of the goal and lazily hung in the air before Parks came flying in for a flying right-footed bicycle clear.

The U.S. bench yelled for a goal, but, of subsequent replays from several camera angles, none could verify the accuracy of the American claims. "I thought it was in," Wolff said. "From my angle it looked over the line. But I’m told TV replays say no. That’s what happens sometimes."

Kasey Keller, making his first appearance of the final round, was outstanding in goal, particular in the second half when he was well-positioned to make saves of Costa Rican blasts. The best stop came in the 57th minute when he rotated across his goal on Harold Wallace’s cross to his right post where he snared Medford’s point-blank header from at sharp angle

"Kasey was very good. His positioning was very excellent," Arena said. "I thought he did a good job with a couple of quick punts to get us into the attack. His command of the goal area was outstanding. I thought he had a great game."

The U.S. has shutouts in six of its last seven qualifiers. "I was happy with the whole game and the way everyone played," Keller said. "We got the win, and that's the most important thing regardless of how you play. I didn't have a whole lot to do. I thought the team played extremely well in front of me and they have been for several games. If I can just be back there and clean up a few things, that is exactly what I hope to do."

"The team has been great, and we've had the same defense now for three games in a row, which is something we didn't have during the first round of qualifying. It really looks like we are starting to gel together. It's not as if none of us have played together with everybody individually, it is just nice that everyone is beginning to play a little bit more together. Today was the best we've played in all of qualifying all over the park. It would have been nice to stick a few more goals in, but three points is three points."

United States 1, Costa Rica 0

Lineups: United States - Kasey Keller, David Regis, Jeff Agoos, Carlos Llamosa, 2-Steve Cherundolo, Chris Armas, Claudio Reyna (captain - Gregg Berhalter, 90), Earnie Stewart, Tony Sanneh, Clint Mathis (Eddie Lewis 81), Josh Wolff (Ante Razov, 71). Costa Rica - Erick Lonnis, Jervis Drummond, Reynaldo Parks (captain), Gilberto Martinez, Carlos Castro (William Sunsing 75), Rodrigo Cordero (Ronald Gomez 79), Harold Wallace, Roland Fonseca, Steven Bryce (Mauricio Solis 60), Paulo Wanchope, Hernan Medford.

Scoring:
United States - Wolff (Mathis) 70.

Shots: United States 21, Costa Rica 10. Saves: United States 6, Costa Rica 1 Corner kicks: United States 5, Costa Roca 2 Fouls: United States 14, Costa Rica 9. Offside: United States 1, Costa Rica 0.

Referee: Jorge Luis Larrionda (Uruguay) Assistant referees: Fernando Marcelo Cresci (Uruguay), Walter Enrique Rial (Uruguay). Attendance: 37,319 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. Weather: 72 degrees, clear, sunny, warm.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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