MIAMI -- All systems aren't go for the United States' venture into the World Cup.
MasterCard International last week announced that it was suing World Cup organizers for violating their sponsorship agreement. Their money has been taken, but some fans haven't received confirmation that they'll get tickets to this summer's extravaganza. A year after it was supposed to have a top-level pro league up and running, the U.S. Soccer Federation is still lining up sponsors for a venture that won't begin until 1995.
Yesterday, the off-field problems looked small compared to the difficulties the United States had with Sweden. In the final game of the Joe Robbie Cup, the Americans got a goal from Hugo Perez in the fourth minute, then crumbled and were blown away as the Swedes rolled to a 3-1 decision.
It was the most lopsided loss for the United States since a 4-0 humbling in Mexico last July.
Most Valuable Player Henrik Larsson, a 22-year-old who tied it in the 30th minute and assisted on the go-ahead goal four minutes later, was making his fourth international appearance. Sweden started two players who weren't even listed on its pool of national team players, but it was the Americans who looked inexperienced and disorganized.
"The synchronization of our defense was inadequate," U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic said. "Better now than later."
If the United States is to achieve its unspoken albeit understood goal of getting out of the opening round of the first World Cup staged on its soil, it might have to undergo some major alterations in the back. Yesterday, some U.S. players questioned the tactics Milutinovic is installing, and others admitted they weren't all on the same page.
"We still have to get things sorted out," said goalie Brad Friedel, who had to deal with 16 shots by the Swedes. "On an offside trap, two [defenders] are and two aren't. I just saw Desmond [Armstrong] heroically take the blame for a goal, but it's a collective effort."
It was a long weekend for Armstrong, the Columbia product who spent most of 1993 at sweeper but moved to left back when Marcelo Balboa returned Feb. 13 from a 10-month absence necessitated by an anterior cruciate ligament tear. For the second time in three days, Armstrong made it clear he's uncomfortable in his new role.
"I thought we had a good nucleus on defense with myself at sweeper, Mike Lapper at stopper, Alexi Lalas [on the right] and Jeff Agoos [on the left]," said Armstrong, playing in his 80th international game. "It's a matter of finding out who the leader is."
The midfield and attack will be bolstered when a half-dozen players return from Europe in May. Friedel and Tony Meola have to wonder if their jobs aren't going to be snatched by one of the goalies working in England, but the United States will try to solve the problems in front of them with players who are stationed at the training camp in Mission Viejo, Calif.
There were other sour notes heard at Joe Robbie Stadium. The attendance of 20,171 was a disappointment, and the bulk came from South Florida's considerable Hispanic population to watch Colombia defeat Bolivia, 2-0.
Sweden won the Joe Robbie Cup on the basis of more goals than the Colombians.
The United States and Bolivia, who tied 1-1 Friday night, shared third place.