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Fashion statement: US takes charge in Cup qualifier

FOXBOROUGH -- Maybe the US Soccer folks have been going about this all wrong. Maybe they should cut a deal with The Shopping Channel people for bulk jewelry and spread it around to their playmates from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Honduras. What easier, cheaper way to get to the World Cup?

Once visiting defender Denis Alas was ejected in the 26th minute for wearing a necklace, the Americans were assured of a pleasant holiday weekend yesterday afternoon, breezing to a 2-0 victory over El Salvador in their Cup qualifier on goals by Brian Ching and Landon Dono-

van before 25,266 at Gillette Stadium. "After two games to have 4 points is good," said coach Bruce Arena, whose squad plays at Panama Wednesday. "It's not perfect, but it's a good position to be in."

With three of their first four semifinal round matches on the road, the Americans wanted to make sure they pocketed 3 points yesterday, after salvaging one at Jamaica last month.

That didn't figure to be a problem against the Azules, who'd never won on US soil in 10 previous visits and hadn't scored on their hosts since their 1997 Cup qualifier here.

But after their experience four years ago, when the Americans were tied in Columbus, Ohio, by Costa Rica and had to go down to the last half hour of the group finale at Barbados to get to the final round, they were taking nothing for granted.

So the US went straight at the Salvadorans right from the kickoff and scored on their first shot as Ching, who'd netted the equalizer at Jamaica in the 89th minute, ricocheted a header off the right post from a spinning, looping service from Bobby Convey.

"The early goal basically ended the game after five minutes," mused Arena, who posted his 50th victory as head coach. "They weren't going to be able to generate any chances.

The blue-clad visitors had hoped to pack the box, play for 0-0, and add a point to the 3 they'd collected from the Panamanians at home in their semifinal opener.

Now, they had to come out and play. Alas, Alas was overdressed. When Jaggernath Goolcharan, the fourth official, noticed the fashion faux pas, he alerted referee Neal Brizan, his Trinidadian countryman, who showed Alas a yellow card.

Since Alas already had one for leveling Convey in the eighth minute, he was gone. "It's an injustice," said Salvadoran midfielder Jorge Rodriguez, "but it's the game." Also gone three minutes later was coach Juan Paredes, for yapping his displeasure.

Alas's expulsion, the US side agreed, was ludicrous. "My suggestion is the better way to manage a game is to [have the player] take the jewelry off," said Arena. "But that's hard to do when you have a young referee."

Not that the yanquis needed any help. They outshot the Azules, 19-1, had an 8-2 edge in corner kicks, and could have knocked in half a dozen goals if they'd had better finishing. "I don't think 2-0 is a fair score," reckoned Arena.

But after Donovan boomed the second one home from just outside the area in the 69th minute, it was all the Americans wanted from a rough-and-tumble match that nearly produced a brawl after Salvadoran goalkeeper Santos Rivera kicked a diving DaMarcus Beasley in the face in the 58th minute.

"Give El Salvador credit, they fought hard for 90 minutes," conceded Arena. "We knew well in advance that was the way the game was going to look."

For the US, whose unusually young lineup included Ching (4 caps), Conor Casey (5), Kerry Zavagnin (7), Cory Gibbs (12), and keeper Tim Howard (12), the objective was to leave town with 3 points and no broken bones and be able to come strong at Panama on three days' rest with a more seasoned group. "Our veterans can weather the storm on the road," Arena figured.

Maybe they should hit the Joan Rivers Boutique en route for jewelry for their hosts. A faceted peacock iridescent bead necklace is going for just $59.77.

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