CHICAGO -- The American Midwest provided an authentic imitation of Central Europe yesterday. The United States was playing at home, several blocks away from US Soccer Federation headquarters, but Poland's national team was greeted like the favorite sons they are for many hundreds of thousands of immigrants.
A red-and-white clad crowd of 39,529 transformed Soldier Field with banners and streamers expressing ties to Polish clubs and players such as D.C. United coach Peter Nowak, who performed for the Chicago Fire after a successful career in Germany and Poland. And the Poles came within a few minutes of victory, the US tying the score, 1-1, on Carlos Bocanegra's 88th-minute header.
"The crowd was good if you were playing for Poland," said US coach Bruce Arena, preparing his team for a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica Aug. 18. "It was good practice for us, a good dry run. If we can get a point in Jamaica, we will be happy. If we play Poland in a qualifying game, I don't think we are going to play it here."
Poland, playing in Chicago for the first time since a 1-0 win over the US in 1973, used five players making their international debut, and Piotr Wlodarczyk, who scored in the 76th minute, was playing in his second game.
Arena used two substitutes -- the MetroStars' Eddie Gaven and San Jose's Brian Mullan -- making their international debut, plus Brian Ching, playing his second game for the US.
The US set the tone for most of the game, but did not seem to have a sense of urgency until after falling behind. Brian McBride missed an 11th-minute penalty kick. And, despite the advances of DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, the US struggled to penetrate the heavily fortified Polish defense, led by goalkeeper Artur Boruc, who plays for Legia Warsaw.
Josh Wolff set up the penalty, breaking into the goal area and touching the ball past Boruc, then went down, the penalty awarded by Canadian referee Silvio Petrescu. McBride sent a low shot that Boruc saved by diving to his left, the shot not struck hard enough.
Donovan threatened on the right flank for most of the first half, slipping past tacklers with ease. And when the Poles backed off Donovan, he bounced a cross to Beasley at the far post, but Beasley nearly whiffed on the shot toward an open net in the 33d minute. Poland began to find some rhythm late in the half, and Sebastian Mila missed with a bicycle-kick attempt. The US threatened in the final seconds, but Boruc advanced out of the goal area and Jaroslaw Bieniuk cleared.
Beasley and Donovan began displaying their individual skills early in the second half, Beasley dancing through two opponents, then finding Donovan, whose low, left-footer deflected for a corner in the 59th minute. Ching replaced McBride in the 65th minute, and almost immediately set up Donovan, who found Wolff for a shot off the side of the net.
Poland capitalized on the failure by the US to clear two successive crosses by Martin Burkhardt, at age 20 the youngest Polish player. Burkhardt crossed from the left side, the first one backheeled weakly by Bocanegra to Michal Golinski, whose shot deflected back to Burkhardt. Tim Howard only slightly batted the second cross with his left hand, and Wlodarczyk reacted quickly, his shot trickling just inside the right post as Bobby Convey arrived too late.
But the US finished aggressively, despite having a team of little-used players, including Ching, Gaven, and Mullan. Bocanegra headed in a Donovan corner in the 88th minute, then Donovan sent Ching through, his shot saved by Boruc in the 90th minute.
"I told our team we can be at fault for not winning this game by two or three goals," Arena said, "because we didn't finish our chances. Overall, we played very well. The Polish team, with the exception of a couple of corner kicks, was not a threat going forward. The combination of chances between Donovan, Wolff, and McBride were enough to get us a win, so we need to be critical of that part of our game."