Others were more inclined to question the competence of Gansler, head coach at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee before being named, in January, to the most important job in U.S. soccer. Gansler, said his detractors, had prepared his team for its first World Cup game with all the subtlety of a man who had played 14 years as a central defender for the Milwaukee Bavarians; strategy and finesse, they said, were not the U.S. coach's strong suit.
Right through the arid first half of Sunday's match the Yanks played a game long on errors and short on inventiveness and imagination. Only a late offside call against the visitors after the ball was in the U.S. net prevented Costa Rica from taking a 1-0 lead at the nine-minute mark. The aggressive play of German Chavarria and Alvaro Solano belied the notion that the Costa Ricans would close up the game and go for a scoreless tie.
When a goal finally came, 27 minutes into the second half, it was the U.S., not Costa Rica, that scored it. Tab Ramos of Hillside, N.J., took a headed pass from Bruce Murray on his left and fired in a ground shot. "I got lucky," said Ramos later. "The ball was deflected by a defender." Costa Rica's Hector Marchena followed up with an apparent goal a few minutes later, but the play was nullified by the referee, who determined that Marchena had touched the ball with his hand.
And so the score stayed 1-0, thanks to Vanole's critical save. The round-robin has proceeded according to form: Every game so far has been won by the home team. Costa Rica is 2-2 for 4 points, Guatemala and the U.S. are both 1-1 for 2 points, while El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago have yet to play. Clearly what will count are points won away from home. "It is going to be very tight indeed," said Gansler, whose team next plays Trinidad and Tobago on May 13 in Torrance, Calif. On that point, he couldn't be faulted.