The Vancouver Whitecaps, the North American Soccer League's best team, came to RFK Stadium yesterday with five starters out with injuries and two losses in their last three games. But age, experience and second-half goals by Peter Beardsley and Terry Felix were enough to defeat slumping Team America, 2-0, before 8,623.
It was Team America's sixth straight defeat and seventh in eight games, and left the U.S. team-in-training for the 1986 World Cup in serious danger of not even qualifying for the league playoffs.
Despite playing one of its best offensive games of the year, Team America could not penetrate Vancouver's British-style defense. Not until falling behind by a goal did Team America gamble and push upfield. But the strategy backfired, giving the Whitecaps more room to work.
"It's important to come off a loss and win your next game," said Whitecaps Coach John Giles, whose team improved to 18-4. "You're better off stopping the losses right away or you'll lose complete confidence in yourself."
While the Whitecaps regained confidence in themselves, members of Team America only doubted themselves more. Team America remains in last place in the Southern Division with an 8-11 record and 56 points.
"Everything we try to do either breaks down or we don't have the luck to make it work," said striker Andrew Parkinson, who got off five shots, including a header at 78:33 that hit the right post. "It's depressing."
Team America has 11 games remaining, six at home. It is 33 points behind division leader Fort Lauderdale and 30 behind second-place Tulsa. Only the top two teams from the division likely will advance to the playoffs, due to the strength of the other divisions.
The team's attendance has also steadily decreased since the attraction of a soccer game and a Beach Boys concert drew 50,108 against Fort Lauderdale on June 12; the combined attendance for the last two home games was 15,940, and General Manager Beau Rogers said, "It's a helpless feeling. I don't know what to do to get these people back into the stadium."
Team America outshot the Whitecaps, 19-16, and had the better scoring chances late in the game. But its inability to control the ball or disguise its offense allowed Vancouver to push its defense up to midfield.
"You always knew the ball was coming down the wings," said goalkeeper Tino Lettieri, who made five saves. "We could read every ball coming in."
"The amount of balls we gave away was bad," said Team America midfielder Ringo Cantillo. "We spent the whole game chasing our mistakes."
After a scoreless first half in which both teams had seven routine shots, Vancouver took the lead at 49:21. David Cross took a long ball in the middle of the field from Lettieri and fed Beardsley on the right wing. After dribbling past defenders Dan Canter and Bruce Savage, Beardsley cut in on goalkeeper Paul Hammond, forcing him to commit himself with a head fake. Beardsley then sent a low shot into the left corner.
The Whitecaps made it 2-0 with 15 minutes left as David Norman settled a crossing pass and carried down the right wing. After getting past defender Alan Merrick, Norman crossed to Felix cutting in from the left, who easily scored from 10 feet.
Vancouver also made up for its lack of players with physical play. The Whitecaps held a 21-16 advantage in fouls, and were issued two yellow cards.
With 18:28 left to play, Vancouver right back Shaun Lowther simply grabbed Tony Crescitelli's jersey rather than get beaten to a ball down the wing.