US Men's Soccer Reaps Historic Success

WITH major-league baseball races shaping up, golf's British Open under way, and pro football training camps opening, soccer couldn't take much of the high ground on American sports pages last week. The United States men's soccer team, however, practically demanded attention with its success in the America Cup in Uruguay.

Tellingly, the must-see semifinal pitting the US against World Cup champion Brazil was not on any major US television network last Thursday.

Serious fans scattered to pay-per-view sites to catch the action in Maldonado, Uruguay, where the Brazilians finally ended a brilliant US run in South America's major tournament. Brazil won 1-0, the same outcome of a second-round World Cup match the year before. (An exhausted US squad lost to Colombia, 4-0, in a third-place match on Saturday; Uruguay defeated Brazil in a penalty-kick shootout, 5-3, after a 1-1 tie in the championship game Sunday.)

The 1994 match between the US and Brazil, though, was played in Palo Alto, Calif., where the US was energized by the kind of fan support they seldom experience and where upset scenarios - like the success of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team - were at least imaginable.

When the US national team goes abroad, history leads few to expect much. This time, team chemistry left over from the World Cup kicked in and the aggressive, attacking strategy of interim coach Steve Sampson paid dividends. The Americans scored impressive victories over Chile, Argentina, and Mexico to set up the rematch with Brazil. This was heady stuff, especially a 3-0 shellacking of Argentina, which had never lost to the US.

In soccer, national teams play each other so infrequently that it's important not to squander an opportunity. The US had played Argentina only six times and was 0-5-1 in 65 years of head-to-head encounters.

The US team has enjoyed a good summer. Earlier, they held their only little round-robin, the US Cup, and defeated Nigeria and Mexico before a tie match against Colombia. Now the results from Uruguay are being viewed as the greatest sustained effort in the history of the US men's team.

Diversity is issue at college level

THE National Collegiate Athletic Association is phasing out its ''Archie and Veronica'' logo - the one that shows the heads of two student-athletes. The design has been used since 1949, and its whites-only depiction is out of keeping with today's diverse athletic population.

At the same time, a women's basketball coach has expressed concern about college sports opportunities for African-American women. Marianna Freeman of Syracuse (N.Y.) University says that the emerging collegiate sports for women are soccer, lacrosse, golf, crew, and ice hockey. ''How many young African-American girls do you know that have the opportunity to play those sports in their neighborhoods? Not very many,'' she says.

But what other sports besides basketball are widely available to African-American women? The only one that comes to mind is track, which is in decline at the college level. The challenge, therefore, may be for schools and youth sports organizations to find ways to introduce young black women to a wider array of sports options. Volleyball holds potential as a growth sport, as does soccer, which is inexpensive and can be played with limited real estate if necessary.

Touching other bases

* Pop Quiz: Golfer John Daly won last weekend's British Open in extra holes. The last American winner also won in a playoff. Who was the 1989 champion: Tom Watson, Mark Calcavecchia, or Fuzzy Zoeller?

* ''Attention shoppers, triple flips will be performed in the mall in 10 minutes.'' USA Gymnastics, the sport's national governing body, thinks shoppers and somersaults may be a good mix. In hopes of introducing children to the sport and spurring gymnastics-club enrollment, the organization has national team members and local gymnasts performing at malls in 20 cities this summer. During the next several weeks the tour pulls into San Antonio, Texas, Metairie, La., and Atlanta.

* Darin Erstad never played high school baseball, yet the California Angels recently made him their No. 1 pick in baseball's free-agent amateur draft. How did this happen? Simple: Erstad came from a high school in North Dakota (Roger Maris's home state) that didn't offer baseball. Instead he played American Legion ball, where he attracted major-league scouts. The Mets drafted him, but Erstad decided to attend the University of Nebraska, where he punted on the national-championship Cornhusker football team besides hitting .410 for the baseball team this past school year. Now he plays on the Angels farm team, having passed up his last two years of college eligibility.

* Quiz answer: Mark Calcavecchia. Wayne Grady and Greg Norman were the runners-up.

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