UCLA Coach Steve Gay, an assistant Olympic coach, says, "When the kids start practicing with the national team big guys, the staff just can't believe it. Their passing is so tight, and they've got a kind of electricity."
Even the dour president of the U.S.S.R. Soccer Federation, Boris Fedosov, was almost effusive after seeing the U.S. youngsters drub Mexico. "Those boys are very brave and full of heart," he said. " America is obviously going to be a major force in this sport."
Davis thinks he knows one reason why the kids are playing so well. "Most NASL squads are dominated by foreign stars," he says. "At the Cosmos, I play behind Beckenbauer and Chinaglia. They dictate the pace and the play. Here, on the Olympic team, I can come out and be an attacking player, do my thing."
Saturday night in the Kingdome, after shaking hands with Henry Kissinger, who is chairman of the board of the NASL, the U.S. Olympic team did its thing, slowly and methodically picking apart the ragged Canadian defense. Ten minutes into the game, Don Ebert, 19, the U.S. captain, boomed home a pass from 25 yards out, and with five minutes left, Larry Hulcer iced the game, shooting in a brilliant through pass from Ebert. Although Hulcer and DiBernardo played only half of the Canada game—being saved for the Soviet game—the Olympic team showed fine control and struck observers as being much further advanced than past U.S. squads.
But the game everyone was waiting for was the one against the U.S.S.R. nationals. Playing in a very difficult division of World Cup eliminators, the U.S.S.R. hasn't qualified a team in the final 16 since 1970, although many experts rate them one of the top dozen squads in the world. The Soviets had arrived in town with their usual slightly gloomy air, smiling only when offered free Levi's but ready to test their fine new national team against the U.S., Mexico and Canada. They also described as "not clever" the new rule by FIFA, soccer's governing body, which bars from the Olympics any player who has appeared in a World Cup qualifying match. The rule, subsequently supported by the International Olympic Committee, is aimed at the "amateurs" who regularly appear on Iron Curtain Olympic teams like East Germany and Poland.
Against the U.S., the Soviets were masterful. Although they appeared perplexed at first by the lack of bite and cushion on the Kingdome AstroTurf, they quickly figured it out, working with it as if mastering a new language. At the 19th minute, Valery Petrakov volleyed a booming shot from the edge of the penalty box, which went past U.S. Goalie Arnie Mausser into the net.
Three minutes later, the whiz kids went into their act. Keough bobbled a pass near midfield, misfired it off someone's knee, managed to corral it again and chip a high through pass to Davis streaking down the wing. Davis, normally a right-footed scorer, booted a low shot with his left for a goal high and to the left of Keeper Victor Radaev.
But although the kids played with commendable verve, it was oldtimer Myernick, a calculating sweeper, who saved the score from being worse than 3-1. Toward the end of the game, with both Hulcer and DiBernardo on the field, the crowd of 13,317 was on its feet, Kissinger included, chanting for an equalizing goal. But Forward Nikolai Kolesov iced the game with a shot from eight yards out in the 83rd minute.
Afterward, Chyzowych was stoic. "If we'd lost like that a year ago. it would have been very destructive to us," he said, "but this year we're building it up. I've tried my kids with fire and they survived. We're not going to go out and win the World Cup tomorrow. But after that, who knows?"
Said DiBernardo, "We showed them something. More important, we showed ourselves that we're not kids anymore."