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 Thursday, October 18, 2001 22:03 EST

Moore's penalty kick the clincher

[Associated Press]

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The United States is back in the World Cup, arriving in a most unusual way.

In the 80th minute Sunday, the Americans were tied with Jamaica, which could have pushed them to the brink of elimination. Seventeen minutes later, they clinched a berth in next year's 32-nation field.

"It's a funny game," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said, unable to keep a grin from filling his face.

Joe-Max Moore converted a penalty in the 81st minute Sunday that led the United States over Jamaica 2-1. Then, after the final nine minutes of the second half and four minutes of stoppage time, the Americans gathered on the north end of Foxboro Stadium to wait.

Three minutes later, Costa Rica finished a scoreless tie against Mexico.

One minute after that, Trinidad and Tobago upset Honduras 1-0.

The giant huddle of American players started jumping up and down. Fans left from the crowd of 40,483 started waving the Stars and Stripes and cheering.

The trip to Japan and South Korea was on. The United States made it with one qualifier to spare.

"We have so many kids playing soccer," Moore said. "For them not having this team in the World Cup would have been devastating."

About 90 minutes before the start of the game, news spread of the U.S. military attacks on Afghanistan. Arena didn't hesitate to tell the players, and some of them were misty-eyed during the national anthem.

"Once the whistle began, I didn't think about what was happening in the outside world at all," Moore said.

Because of military action, ABC dropped its telecast of the game, meaning the fans in the stadium on a cool and blustery afternoon were the only ones to witness the U.S. clinching a World Cup berth on home soil for the first time.

After the game, the Americans tried to put the victory in perspective.

"If you can't make a commitment to play for 90 minutes in some stupid little soccer game, you don't belong on the field," Arena said.

Then he thought about what he had said.

"It's not a stupid little soccer game. But really, in the big picture, if I could substitute a victory today for the lives of the 6,000 people we lost a month ago, I would do that."

The Americans clearly were proud of their accomplishment and the events of the last month didn't prevent champagne corks from being popped in the U.S. locker room.

Of the 21 nations that have qualified for next year's tournament, the United States is among just six to have made it for the fourth straight time, a group that includes Argentina, Cameroon, Italy, South Korea and Spain.

The Americans thought they'd need to win their final two games, but the strange scores assured themselves of finishing among the top three nations in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Costa Rica (6-1-2), which clinched one of the region's three berths by beating the Americans last month, is first with 20 points, followed by the United States (5-3-1) with 16. Mexico and Honduras have 14 each at 4-3-2 but because they meet Nov. 11, only one could overtake the Americans.

"I would have bet my house on the result in Trinidad not being what it was today," Arena said.

Coming off its first three-game losing streak in 29 years, the United States played only so-so. Moore scored 3:01 in when he dived to redirect a pass into the net from Claudio Reyna, back from a suspension and groin injury that caused him to miss the three defeats.

But James Lawrence tied the score in the 14th minute when U.S. defenders stood in the penalty area and gave him room to trap the ball with his chest, and then shoot past goalkeeper Brad Friedel.

Reyna created the play that led to the penalty kick, sending a pass to Landon Donovan, who was streaking into the penalty area.

Jamaica's Tyrone Marshall, a Miami Fusion forward who entered in the 63rd minute, pulled down Donovan with a sliding tackle. Referee Rodolfo Sibrian of El Salvador immediately pointed to the penalty spot.

Last month, Earnie Stewart missed a penalty kick, swinging the momentum in a 3-2 loss to Honduras that created all the uncertainty about qualification.

Arena, who made the players practice penalty kicks Saturday, let them decide who would take it. The final candidates were Stewart, Jeff Agoos or Moore, whose point-blank shot bounced off goalkeeper Aaron Lawrence's shoulder early in the second half.

"How do you feel?" Stewart asked Moore.

"Great," Moore replied.

He got the ball, walked to the penalty spot and immediately decided low right. That's where he sent it, and Lawrence had no chance.

After that, the Americans held on, with Agoos clearing a tough shot by Paul Hall from the goal area two minutes into injury time.

Game notes
Mexico can clinch a berth with a win or a tie against Honduras. ... Jamaica, which made the tournament for the first time in 1998, was eliminated. ... Moore has 24 international goals, second on the U.S. list behind Eric Wynalda (34).

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