The night before the biggest match in the history of U.S. soccer, coach Bora Milutinovic smuggled his team into the empty Silverdome, where they watched Diamond Vision videos of their recent goals, held hands at midfield and received mystical "Chimayo" dirt from New Mexico to sprinkle in their shoes for luck. A win over Switzerland on Saturday would mean not only three points in the World Cup's first round, but also vital increments in the Nielsen ratings for later U.S. matches during the tournament. "It is very important we put on a good game, an attractive game," said U.S. assistant coach Timo Liekoski on Friday. "It is also important to get a good result."
In playing to a 1-1 draw before a crowd of 73,425 in Pontiac, Mich., Bora's Boys were good, but not quite good enough against a team they needed to beat. The Swiss were supposed to be handicapped by the decidedly un-Alpine atmosphere at the first indoor Cup game, where the humidity reached 71% and the temperature on the turf 106°. Switzerland coach Roy Hodgson likened the ambiance to "playing in a hot dog stand," and the Yanks didn't relish the conditions, either. "We never seemed to get out of second gear," said U.S. forward Roy Wegerle. "The heat had a lot to do with it. We did most of the chasing, so when we got to the ball, we were too tired to do anything with it."
Still, the U.S.'s start was hardly a disaster, like the one at the '90 World Cup in Italy, where Czechoslovakia blitzed the U.S. 5-1. On Saturday the U.S. looked to be men among men on the sport's biggest stage. Goalie Tony Meola was solid against Switzerland; only Georges Bregy beat him with a free kick from just outside the penalty box in the 39th minute. So, too, was forward Eric Wynalda. On Friday, however, Wynalda woke up with a mysterious case of hives. His hands and arms were swollen, his scalp itched, and his butt had turned red (he displayed portions of it to the press for verification). Wynalda took Benadryl, an antihistamine, and the next day he played with abandon. In the 45th minute he curled a 28-yard free kick over the wall and into the upper left corner of the net. "You really have to hit it perfect for it to work," Wynalda said, "and that's what happened."
No host nation in the Cup's 64-year history has failed to reach the second round, and the tie, worth one point, left the U.S. needing a victory or two tics in its two remaining first-round games, against Colombia and Romania this week, to advance. "Four years ago it was like we went to war," Wynalda said on Saturday. "We've learned to just play instead."