06/17/2002 12:00AM

In soccer, just one goal can mean upset


The United States's 2-0 upset of Mexico Monday morning in World Cup action wasn't as shocking as a lot of people think.

The U.S. was between a +270 and +300 underdog to win the game in regulation, so the oddsmakers were saying there was about a one-in-four chance of a U.S. victory. That's about the same odds the Nets had in game 1 of the NBA final against the Lakers, and the Hurricanes had in game 1 of the Stanley Cup final against the Red Wings (which the Hurricanes won). Upsets of this magnitude aren't uncommon.

Describing the game in American football terms, Mexico controlled the time of possession by a 2-1 margin, but most of the game was played between the 20's. The United States was more effective in the red zone, and Mexico didn't convert its scoring opportunities.

One truth is that it's easier to pull an upset in a sport in which fewer goals are scored. If Jason Kidd steals the basketball from Kobe Bryant and goes in for a layup, that's only 2 points out of about 200 in an NBA game, or 1 percent. A lucky goal or a breakaway in World Cup soccer could be 100 percent of the scoring, and usually at least 33 percent. Fewer goals is the same reason it's easier to have an upset in hockey.

Also, elimination in the World Cup can come in just one game. The Red Wings lost game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, but had the opportunity to win the next four to take the title. The Lakers could have suffered a loss and still won the NBA finals. Mexico, which might well win a best-of-seven series against the U.S., didn't have that luxury.

Single-elimination tournaments lead to more Cinderella stories. "Caddyshack" groundskeeper Carl could probably beat Tiger Woods occasionally if golf tourneys were just one hole.

The World Cup quarterfinals start Thursday at 11:30 p.m. Vegas time (2:30 a.m. Friday Eastern) with Brazil taking on England. Las Vegas Sports Consultants made Brazil the -110 favorite to win at the 90-minute mark, with England at +260 and a draw at +220. The United States faces Germany at 4:30 a.m. Friday (7:30 a.m. Eastern). Germany is a -145 favorite with the U.S. +360 and a draw +220. It wouldn't shock me to see one of the underdogs pull another upset.

Surprising Senegal (200-1 at the start of the tourney and now at 25-1) is preparing to face the Japan-Turkey winner, and Spain is awaiting the survivor of South Korea-Italy for their Saturday quarterfinal matchups. LVSC has lowered the U.S.'s odds to win the World Cup to 15-1. Brazil is still the 2-1 favorite.

Right race, right bet

Any horseplayer will tell you that you don't need to a cash a lot of winning tickets to make money at the track, just the right tickets.

Max Pescatori proved that once again as it took just one trifecta ticket to win Summer Showdown II at the Reno Hilton last Friday and Saturday. Players in that tournament pay a $200 entry fee and then bet $300 each day through the windows, keeping any winnings.

Pescatori, a Las Vegas resident, squeaked out a profit on Friday with $304 in earnings and was fading in the 103-player field Saturday when he made a $70 trifecta bet with Street Cry, Dollar Bill, and Tenpins in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill. The cold trifecta, which paid $107.40 for $1, was worth a cool $7,539 in Pescatori's wallet and in the contest standings. That brought his two-day total to $7,843 (on $600 in wagers) to circle the field. Pescatori also earned the $8,240 first prize for a total haul of $16,083 for his $800 investment.

Jack Odogard of Reno took home $4,120 for amassing winnings of $3,460. Joe Hinson of Germantown, Tenn., won $2,060 for finishing third with his earnings of $2,917. Hinson would have had a huge lead on Friday if the result of Bay Meadows's seventh race had stood. Hinson bet $185 to win on More Mascara, who won the allowance race at 32-1 but was DQ'd for interference at the start and placed last. Hinson's bet would have been worth $6,197.

* The Reno Hilton's Brawl in the Fall is moving from Breeders' Cup weekend to Sept. 4-7, and the entry fee for the 64-player field is being reduced to $1,500. The Reno Hilton also has joined the NTRA, so the top four finishers will earn an entry and a free trip to Las Vegas for the Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship next January.

Sports book notes

Ho-hum. Tiger Woods was hardly challenged as he won the U.S. Open at Bethpage State Park's Black Course as the 2-1 favorite. Nevada sports books fared well, as bettors didn't pound Woods at the low odds. Woods actually drifted up from his opening odds of 9-5 at many books. The Palms has already made Woods, who has now won the first two majors of the year and seven of the last 11, the 3-2 favorite to win the British Open at the Muirfield Golf Links in East Lothian, Scotland, on July 18-21.

* Matt Kenseth had already won two NASCAR races this year, but he was no better than sixth choice in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400 at Michigan International Speedway on Sunday. Kenseth, 12-1 on the betting board, held off 6-1 second choice Dale Jarrett to become the first three-time winner on the Winston Cup circuit this year.

* Umpire Mark Hirschbeck continues to bring in the unders for baseball bettors. Hirschbeck, who was behind the plate for Sunday night's Yankees-Mets game, is now 12-1 under this season after the Mets' 3-2 victory. His brother John, who is 9-5 under himself, should be back from vacation this week. Other consistent under umps in the major this season: Marvin Hudson (8-1), Joe West (7-1), and Ted Barrett (11-3). The top over umpires: Gary Cederstrom (11-3), Matt Hollowell (11-2), Jeff Nelson (10-2), and Tim Tschida (10-3).