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Four nights in a row the stumpy little bus took the players of the U.S. national soccer team back to their hotel after the training sessions. Each night, as the bus pulled away from the stadium in downtown Port-au-Prince, hundreds of yelling and cheering young boys ran along behind for the first hundred yards or so. Then they fell back and the little bus sped off through the dappled nighttime of the erratically lit streets, clattering and snorting and leaving behind in the heavy warm air the raucous strains of Yankee Doodle Dandy, or I Ain't Gonna Grieve No More.
All along the route, the Haitians in the crowded streets stopped to turn and stare after this extraordinary parcel of foreign noise passing through their city. Some smiled, some waved and some shouted, but they all noticed.
Not so noticeable, because a good deal quieter, was a similar bus that left the stadium earlier each evening carrying the Canadian national team.
For the moment Canada and the U.S. were just two of more than 100 national teams involved in the qualifying rounds of the World Cup, soccer's quadrennial Holy Grail, to be held in Argentina in the summer of 1978 for the 16 finalists. The two countries had started their quest along with Mexico in a three-nation subgroup from which two of them would go on to the next round. Mexico had won the round-robin series but the U.S. and Canada had ended up with identical 1-2-1 records. To decide which would advance, a single playoff game at a neutral site was necessary. When the U.S. and Canada could not agree on where and when the game should be played, the World Cup organizers told them: Port-au-Prince, Haiti, three days before Christmas.
The Americans approved. They had played four games in Haiti in November, and felt at home in Port-au-Prince. The Canadians, suffering financial problems, had favored Mexico or Bermuda to keep down traveling costs. But when the World Cup organizing committee decides, there is either obedience or there is a forfeit. Canada would play in Haiti.
Coach Walt Chyzowych put his U.S. squad—players of U.S. citizenship preponderantly from the North American Soccer League—through a series of preparatory games in Curacao and Surinam. His confidence before meeting Canada was total. "We are ready," he said. "I think the score could be 3-0 to us."
Within a minute of the start, the U.S. had its chance—two chances, in fact—to score the vital first goal. A hectic scramble in the Canadian goal mouth raised a great cloud of dust on the desert-dry field and left the ball running loose to Center-Forward Freddy Grgurev from the German-American soccer league. His solid eight-yard shot spun away off the body of a Canadian defender. From the subsequent corner kick, a glancing header by Minnesota's Mike Flater was a little too finely angled, sending the ball wide of the left-hand post.
Three minutes later, Seattle's powerful Boris Bandov broke through with only Goalkeeper Zeljko Bilecki to beat. Bandov's shot was taken too soon and Bilecki had the split second he needed to dive and smother the ball.
The Canadians had been lucky, but they had survived and were playing the ball forward with a methodical coolness so different from the brittle nervousness that characterized the U.S. raids. Their first threat came on a diving header that seemed almost in the net until Goalkeeper Arnie Mausser of Tampa Bay threw himself across the goal and scooped the ball away from the foot of the post.
Twenty-two minutes into the game came the crucial play, and this time the outcome was less happy for Mausser. From out near the left touchline, Canadian Left Back Bruce Wilson lofted a 40-yard free kick, a ball that seemed to dip suddenly as it came into the American goal mouth. Mausser came out for it, and came up with nothing. The ball ran through to Brian Budd, who volleyed for goal from six yards out. Standing on the goal line, U.S. Captain Al Trost of St. Louis, tried to block the shot, only to see it spin off his thigh and into the net. Canada 1, U.S. 0.