U.S. gains quarters for first time


MELBOURNE, Australia - Few will remember where they were when it happened.

Few will appreciate the significance.

But the breakthrough of U.S. men's soccer's might someday be seen in the vivid, dripping image of a 3-1 victory over Kuwait last night at the wet and windy Melbourne Cricket Ground.

For the first time in their 76-year history of playing Olympic soccer, the United States men have advanced beyond pool play.

The team earned a trip to Saturday's quarterfinals in Adelaide, where it will face Brazil, Japan or South Africa. The Americans must await the finish of Pool D before learning whom they play.

The opponent doesn't matter, goalkeeper Brad Friedel said. What matters to U.S. soccer is the unexpected outcome of the under- 23 players who are the country's future.

They accomplished their feat 400 miles from Sydney, where Olympic fever and warm spring weather has left the city giddy. Playing in front of 19,684 freezing fans, the drama of their achievement was nothing more than a blip on the Olympic radar screen.

It hardly felt like the Summer Olympics, as a bracing wind swept through the nearly empty cricket stadium bringing spring showers. But all the soggy U.S. players considered was winning. A tie or loss would have ended their Olympics with disappointment.

Soccer officials hailed it as a grand feat that began six years ago when the United States played host to the 1994 World Cup. The first-division Major League Soccer grew out of the successful month- long tournament. The league has developed homegrown players who have had an impact on international soccer.

"I think it will resonate as an Olympic moment," U.S. Soccer president Bob Contiguglia said.

Although relegated to secondary status at the 2000 Summer Olympics because of the hugely popular U.S. women, the young MLS pros have played with spirit.

They were the class of their group, tying Cameroon and the Czech Republic. They won the pool with a better goal differential than Cameroon.

The Czechs qualified second out of Europe behind powerhouse Italy. Cameroon finished second in the African qualification behind Nigeria.

"We're going into every game thinking we can win," said Landon Donovan, who scored the third goal in the 88th minute.

"No one expected us to do anything, anyway," said Dan Califf, who scored the first goal. "We'll take a deep breath, and really, this is where the tournament begins."

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