Forward John Kerr Jr., 22, a graduate of Falls Church High School and Duke University, yesterday became the first American to play in an English First Division soccer match. He played in Portsmouth's season-opener, a 4-2 loss to Oxford United at Oxford. He did not score a goal.

Portsmouth hadn't played a First Division match in 28 years.

Kerr, who spent his last college semester studying in England, attracted the interest of professional clubs while playing for a London semi-pro team. Portsmouth Manager Alan Ball, a member of England's 1966 World Cup championship team, gave him a tryout with the club's reserve squad. After playing well in reserve matches, Kerr was offered a regular contract.

Selected during his senior year at Falls Church by the New York Cosmos in the first round of the North American Soccer League draft, he chose to attend Duke, where he became one of the school's all-time leading scorers. In 1986, he led the Blue Devils to their first national title, was Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, a first-team all-America and won the Hermann Award as college soccer's national player of the year.

In 1985, he played for the U.S. team in its World Cup qualifying matches. He scored the only U.S. goal in its two-game qualifying series with Costa Rica, one that gave the U.S. a 1-1 tie in the first match, played in Costa Rica. In 1986, he was named the most valuable player of the U.S. Olympic Festival's soccer competition.

John Kerr Sr. played professionally in his native Scotland, as well as in England, Canada, Mexico and the United States. He was a member of the Washington Diplomats. He coaches F.C. Washington, one of the charter franchises in the new American Soccer League. He was in Oxford yesterday, but was expected to return in time for F.C. Washington's match today against the Maryland Bays at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.