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U.S. off on road, drops qualifier

His team outrun and outplayed by Costa Rica, Steve Sampson remains certain the United States will be at next year's World Cup. And he said Costa Rica will be there as well.

"You have just watched two teams that will be playing in France," the U.S. coach said Sunday after his team lost to Costa Rica 3-2, its first defeat in the final round of qualifying for the 1998 World Cup.

Sampson had said he hoped to escape with a tie and one point. And for a while, it looked as if he would get his wish.

Roy Lassiter, who has played professionally in Costa Rica and for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and was booed when he entered the game in the second half, tied it at 2 in the 68th minute. Then Ronald Gomez struck eight minutes later.

Before a jubilant crowd of 20,000 at Saprissa Stadium, Gomez scored with 14 minutes left, tipping in a clearing attempt by defender Mike Burns.

Harold Wallace picked up a loose ball outside the penalty area, faked defender Alexi Lalas, then chipped a cross that Burns kicked onto the foot of Gomez at the near post.

The United States also lost at Costa Rica 2-1 on Dec. 1 in the semifinal qualifying round, the only loss by the Americans.

In other qualifiers, Japan beat Oman 1-0 and Nepal tied Macao 1-1 in Asia Group Four.

CALIGIURI TO GALAXY: Defender Paul Caligiuri, who sued Major League Soccer to play for Los Angeles, on Saturday was assigned to the Galaxy, said MLS commissioner Doug Logan.

Caligiuri, 32, won his breach of contract claim Friday, an award that will pay him more than $100,000 and required the league to transfer him to the Galaxy, his lawyer said.

LATE SATURDAY: After 90 minutes of sometimes furious but ultimately fruitless offense, it took the goalkeepers to settle the MLS season opener. Not with great saves, though.

San Jose goalkeeper Dave Salzwedel beat his New York/New Jersey counterpart, Tony Meola, in the 11th round of a shootout forced by the teams' 0-0 tie in regulation.

Salzwedel touched the ball twice and sent a slow roller off Meola's left foot and into the goal to win the shootout 4-3.

MUTINY EXHIBITION: Goalkeeper Mark Dougherty turned forward for one half and scored a goal to help the Tampa Bay Mutiny salvage a 2-2 tie with El Salvador's national team at the Flor Blanca Stadium in San Salvador.

Dougherty was pressed into action as a field player because of injuries and illness and scored off a corner kick in the 70th minute to help the Mutiny cut a two-goal deficit in half.

Forward Marco Ferruzzi scored in the 83rd minute off a pass from Nelson Vargas.

The Mutiny finished its preseason at 7-2-5. Tampa Bay opens its Major League Soccer regular season Saturday night against New York-New Jersey at Houlihan's Stadium.

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