Absolutely nobody expects the United States to be among the final 20 in 1978's World Cup soccer competition, except members of this year's U.S. national team, the country's first. Before a crowd of 22,000 in Dallas earlier this month, the more northerly Americans came within an ace of tying Mexico, the same Mexican team that tied Cup semifinalist Brazil 1-1 before 170,000 last spring in Rio. Only a diving save by Mexico's superb goaltender Ignacio Calderon, who was twice as busy as the U.S.'s Bob Rigby of the Philadelphia Atoms, prevented a last-minute header by Kyle Rote Jr. of the Dallas Tornado from going in.
The U.S. team is being coached by Dettmar Cramer, a West German with impressive credentials. Cramer took a Japanese team that was headed nowhere to a bronze medal in the 1964 Olympics. He devoted subsequent years to the emerging nations, then decided in 1974 that his best chance was with that potential gold mine, the U.S. He will stick by this country at least until 1978, the next Cup year.
The hope is there, says Cramer. Three days before its 1-0 loss in Dallas, the U.S. went down 3-1 to the same Mexicans in Monterrey. "We were able to stay with them at the international pace for only 60 minutes the first time," Cramer said. "We were with them the full 90 minutes Sunday."
The U.S. team is made up of the best of the home-raised players now performing in the pro North American Soccer League. They and those who may supplant them will be aiming at the elimination rounds two years away. To toughen up, they plan to take on powerful Yugoslavia in December and a European tour next spring.
FEAR STRIKES OUT
Bill Travis was officiating at his first football game at Warrior High School outside Birmingham, Ala., and if he thought he was nervous he had only to look at the captain of the kicking team to know what real fright was. Travis has dined out on the story for years.
"Captain, are you ready?" he asked the petrified lad. As combination umpire/ field judge, Travis was to dash for the sideline after an affirmative nod and signal the referee downfield, who would start the game. But there was no answer. The young man stood erect and still next to the teed-up ball, looking straight ahead.
"Captain, are you ready?" Travis asked in a louder voice. He was ignored.
Travis stepped closer. Almost nose to nose with the boy, he asked a third time, "Captain, are you ready to play football?" Still no answer. The boy obviously was too shaky to reply. Travis decided that only action would bring him out of the spell.