Brian McBride scored the USA’s lone goal against Iran. (Andy Mead/YCJPhoto)
This story was published in Soccer New York in 1998 and is used with permission
By Michael Lewis
LYON, France – They dominated the second half, they peppered the Iran net with numerous shots and they even hit the woodwork three times.
But as they have done many times before, the players on the U.S. men’s national team camp up a goal and a victory short.
The Americans crashed out of the World Cup in embarrassing fashion on Sunday night (June 21, 1998), losing to 300-1 longshot Iran, 2-1.
What made it more excruciating was that they lost to the one team they felt they could beat at Le Stade de Gerland. They became the fifth country to be eliminated, joining Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Jamaica and Japan as non-entities for their third games.
“We just weren’t clever enough to win the game,” midfielder Claudio Reyna said. “It sits in your stomach. It hurts a lot.”
Reyna and his teammates, who were 200-1 shots to win the Cup, will try to salvage a disastrous France ’98 in a meaningless (for them) Group F match against Yugoslavia in Nantes on Thursday.
The U.S. fired 27 shots, the most in a game at this cup, at goalkeeper Ahmad Abedzadeh, who made seven saves. They managed to solve him once – on a Brian McBride header in the 87th minute, but not until Iran had taken a two-goal lead behind Hamid Estili and Mchdi Mahdavikia.
“I’m very proud of the players and very proud of the attitude to which they approached the game,” U.S. coach Steve Sampson said.
But attitude was not enough.
Sampson abandoned his 3-6-1 formation and five starters from the 2-0 debacle against Germany for a slightly more offensive 3-5-2. The new first-string blood included midfielders Tab Ramos, who struggled before being replaced, Frankie Hejduk and Joe-Max Moore, and forward McBride and Roy Wegerle.
The new lineup excluded U.S. all-time leading goal-scorer Eric Wynalda (32 goals).
Asked why Wynalda didn’t play while Preki, Brian Maisonneuve and Earnie Stewart were brought on in the second half, Sampson replied, “I’m not going to criticize my players. Roy Wegerle had a very good performance against Germany and Roy Wegerle deserved to start.”
But Wegerle was a non-factor in the match as the U.S. his for the wrong type of soccer cycle, knocking the ball off both posts and the crossbar. With the game barely three minutes old, McBride headed a 10-yard shot off the crossbar. Reyna cracked a 25-yard attempt off the right post in the 33rd minute and defender David Regis bounded a shot off the left posts in the 74thminute.
“It was like the ball was magnetized,” McBride said.
It wasn’t for the Iranians, who took the lead on Estili’s score in the 40th minute. With defenders Eddie Pope and Regis with their men up field, sweeper Thomas Dooley was forced to come out to the right wing to defender midfielder Javad Zarincheh, who crossed the ball into the middle. Estili headed it past a helpless Kasey Keller into the upper left corner while Reyna never challenged the Iranian.
“We didn’t stay with our man,” said Reyna, who had more on-field freedom than in Game 1. “We got confused. After the goal I told Tab I thought it was my man and he said he thought it was his man.”
Instead of going on attack, the U.S. went into a shell.
“Before the goal we were patient, then our reaction after they took a 1-0 lead wasn’t good,” Reyna said. “We fell apart and lost it.”
Until the second half, when the desperate U.S. side pushed up and tried for the equalizer.
The Americans never got it because Iran struck for a second goal on a counterattack in the 84th minute. Mahdaviikia, on a breakaway from midfield, slotted it past Keller from 10 yards.
McBride’s four-yard header three minutes later made it interesting. But for the U.S., it was too little and too late.