U.S. 1, Poland 1
Following Sunday evening's 1-1 tie with Poland, the final tuneup before the next round of World Cup qualifying begins next month at Jamaica, U.S. national men's soccer team coach Bruce Arena was asked what he thought of a crowd that left Soldier Field awash in red-and-white Polish flags and banners.
"The crowd was good if you were playing for Poland," he quipped. "It was good practice for us. We're going to get that August 18th, so we got it tonight. It was a good dry run. If we can get a point in Jamaica, we'll be happy."
Sunday's friendly served many purposes, perhaps none more important than replicating the stirring atmosphere the Americans are sure to confront in daunting trips to Central America and the Caribbean in their pursuit of a berth in the 2006 World Cup.
Unlike most teams, the United States doesn't have to travel abroad to create an uncomfortable setting.
Poland traveled several thousand miles for this game, but based on the support they received, it was as if the Poles never left home. Three-quarters of the 39,529 spectators backed the visitors, but that was hardly a surprise considering Chicago is said to have the largest Polish population outside of Eastern Europe.
The crowd included D.C. United Coach Peter Nowak, a former Poland national team captain.
"I told you: 1-1," Nowak said, smiling. "Everybody is happy."
Arena was happy with his team's ability to create chances but not happy about its inability to finish them. He wasn't thrilled to see Brian McBride have his early penalty kick saved and several other opportunities go astray, but he was pleased that the Americans' persistence paid off with an 88th-minute equalizer on Carlos Bocanegra's header off Landon Donovan's corner kick.
Poland, which caused more problems for the United States in the first half than in the second, had taken the lead in the 76th minute on a six-yard shot by Piotr Wlodarczyk.
The Polish fans turned out in large numbers despite the presence of a novice national team, part of a regrouping effort for the national team program that flopped at the 2002 World Cup and failed to qualify for the European Championship.
Every Polish player here competes in the domestic league back home and only one, 30-year-old defender Pawel Kaczorowski, has made more than 10 international appearances. Starting goalkeeper Artur Boruc, 24, had represented his country twice before today.
The Poles served several dangerous crosses through the box in the first half, but goalkeeper Tim Howard wasn't seriously tested. They were silent through much of the second half, but then in the 76th minute, Bocanegra failed to repel a Polish attack and Marcin Burkhardt crossed the ball deep in the box.
Howard, the Manchester United keeper who was voted the best goalie in England this past season, could only slap at the ball, leaving it for Wlodarczyk to poke just inside the right post and trigger a wild celebration on the field and in the stands.
But the Americans' relentless pressure finally paid off. Donovan, who was spectacular all evening, delivered a corner kick to the top of the six-yard box, where Bocanegra rose above his marker and directed a powerful header toward the left corner. A Polish defender made contact but couldn't prevent the ball from trickling over the goal line.
"It was nice to get one back," Bocanegra, a former Chicago Fire star, said in reference to his defensive lapse on Poland's goal. "I didn't want the game to end that way."
Soccer Note: D.C. United teenager Freddy Adu is expected to be named to the MLS Eastern Conference all-star team on Monday as a "commissioner's pick" -- an annual designation usually given to a young player. Teammate Alecko Eskandarian will likely be among six reserves named for the July 31 game at RFK Stadium.