U.S. men back in spotlight with tournament in Mexico

Americans' opponents include Brazil, Germany

July 16, 1999|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Lost in the gush over the American victory in the Women's World Cup has been a tournament in Mexico for the men's team, selection of which coach Bruce Arena announced in Denver yesterday.

The U.S. men open July 24 in Guadalajara against weak New Zealand, representing Oceania in the FIFA Confederations Cup.

The tournament is intended to match the best national teams from each FIFA region of the world, but that has been tainted by less-than-enthusiastic participation. In fact, World Cup champion France took a pass.

But for Arena and U.S. players, it's a chance to play under tournament pressure against South American champion Brazil (July 28) and European fill-in Germany (July 30), powers the Americans have beaten once each in friendlies. All three sides will experiment with new players, although many stars will play, as well.

"Our goal is the advance out of our group [to the semifinals]," said the ever pragmatic Arena.

With a few exceptions, Arena's 20-man squad blends the European-based players and Major League Soccer up-and-comers he used against Argentina in Washington last month. One surprise addition was veteran central defender Marcelo Balboa, out of the national picture since riding the bench in the 1998 World Cup.

Arena left playmaker Claudio Reyna in Scotland to fight for a job in Glasgow Rangers' starting lineup. "We could have called him. But in the long run for his career, it made more sense for him to train with Rangers rather than miss three weeks just before they open their season," Arena said.

The tournament is important, he said, "because it gives me an opportunity to evaluate our players on the road against some outstanding competition. It makes a lot clearer what needs to be done in 2000." Qualifying for the 2002 World Cup begins late next year.

Arena expressed concern over the tournament's timing in terms of fan interest, league demands everywhere, international club tournaments, European title play, and Copa America, the South American tournament winding up now.

"Players have been stretched in many directions," he said. "It's actually not healthy, and hopefully, that will get resolved in the next year so the future of the game is better and these competitions become much clearer to the people supporting the teams."

Other Cup competitors: host Mexico; South American runner-up Bolivia; African champ Egypt, and Asian champion Saudi Arabia. Play, which ends in Mexico City on Aug. 4, will be televised in this country on pay-for-view.

Cromwell to Akers

Amanda Cromwell, who quit as UMBC's women's soccer coach to try to regain a spot on the U.S. national team but could not, has resurfaced as coach at the University of Central Florida.

Cromwell, 29, who earned 51 caps as a U.S. defender between 1991 and 1998, will have an assistant who definitely will command respect: Michelle Akers, one of the U.S. Women's World Cup stars and pioneer in the women's game.

Fans, and more fans

D.C. United's media office, hyping what it calls "Washington's claim as one of the [United States'] preeminent soccer markets," calculated that 219,545 fans saw 12 top-level games at RFK and Jack Kent Cooke stadiums from May 30 to July 1.

Average for nine dates, counting five United games, the Argentina-U.S. men's friendly and three Women's World Cup doubleheaders, was 24,393. The largest crowd was 54,642 for the U.S. women's come-from-behind, 3-2 Cup quarterfinal win against Germany.

A dozen Orioles home games in that same span drew 544,297. Average: 45,358.

Pub Date: 7/16/99

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