soccer  bob wagmansoccer

feedback

ESPN

Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Last-minute Jones goal could play large role in U.S. Gold Cup quest.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

MIAMI (Sunday, February 13, 2000) -- When Cobi Jones eluded two defenders, then Haitian goalkeeper Didier Menard, and put the ball into the empty net from a sharp angle with an acrobatic move in the 89th minute of last night's 3-0 Gold Cup victory over Haiti, it well might end up the most important international goal the American midfielder has everscored.

Although U.S. coach Bruce Arena and his players say they are playing the Gold Cup "one mach at a time," there is a kind of general agreement of the route the U.S. would like to take to maximize its chances of winning the tournament -- or at least reaching the final in Los Angeles on February 27.

The U.S. wants badly to win Group A, comprised of the U.S., Haiti And Peru, here in Miami. Then the U.S. would play Saturday against the runnerup from the other Miami group, which includes Jamaica, Colombia and Honduras.

Here is the scenario that most here agree would give the U.S. the best chance to reach the final. The U.S. wins its group, as does Colombia. Thus on Saturday, the U.S. would play runnerup Jamaica in the quarterfinal. The U.S. then defeats Jamaica to earn a semifinal meeting against Colombia the following Wednesday in San Diego. This would be away from the large and passionate pro-Colombian crowd that would be expected to turn out in Miami,but not in San Diego. with its predominately Mexican population.

The U.S. wins that semifinal and advances to the championship in Los Angeles where it meets the winner of the South Korea-Mexico semifinal. The betting would be on a Mexico-U.S. championship match, as it was two years ago in the Cup final when Mexico won 1-0 before some 91,000 mostly Mexican fans.

But back to the Cobi Jones goal. To get this best scenario underway the U.S. must win its group. To do this it must finish ahead of Peru. Given there are only three teams in each group, the possibility of a tie looms large. Thus the importance of tie-breaking procedures.

A victory over Peru wins Group A for the U.S. But if the U.S. and Peru tie, and assuming that Peru also beats Haiti, a strong probability, then the U.S. and Peru would be tied atop their group. The first tie-breaker is goal differential. The second is goals scored. The third is goals scored against. The fourth is a coin flip.

So what it would come down to in deciding who wins the group is whether the U.S. defeated Haiti worse than Peru beats them tomorrow.

With the score dragging on 1-0 for so long last night, and the Haitians packed in defensively, it was nail-biting time for the U.S. A one-goal victory would surely weaken the chances of winning Group B. When Eric Wynalda added the penalty kick to make it 2-0, the U.S. got a bit of breathing room. But there was always the possibility the Haitians might get a goal to bring it back to 2-1, so the U.S. was never in the clear until Jones went on his late run to score the third goal.

Arena said, "I really haven't given (goal differential) much thought."

Haitian coach Emmanuel Sanon promises his team will play more offensively on Monday and will score, which would help the U.S. Of course, that could also increase the possibility of more-talented Peru finding net more often on the counterattack.

Needless to say, first the U.S. must avoid losing to Peru. And defeating Jamaica and Colombia will be no easy task no matter what the circumstances. These scenarios just give U.S. fans something to think and talk about until Wednesday and the match against Peru (which, unfortunately, will not be on any sort of home television anywhere).

The U.S. is playing well now and has confidence. The win over Haiti was the first U.S. international victory in Miami in the last 16 years with a 0-9-5 record. If the Americans end up in the Los Angeles Coliseum next Sunday playing for the Cup, they might well look back on the Cobi Jones goal as what got them there.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at SoccerWag1@aol.com.

©Copyright 2000 SoccerTimes.com. All Rights Reserved