Olympics on line for U.S. team

Guatemala game tonight will determine berth

April 28, 2000|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Sunday is when the championship game for Olympic qualifying in men's soccer from this world region will be played. But the trophy -- actually, tickets to Australia -- everyone wants will be awarded figuratively in Hershey, Pa., tonight.

Flights Down Under go to the winners of two semifinal games at Hersheypark Stadium: Mexico vs. Honduras at 5: 30 p.m., followed by the United States vs. Guatemala at 8 p.m. The losing sides -- after overtime and penalty kicks, in case of ties -- fly home.

By the book, North and Central America and the Caribbean are expected to be represented in Sydney by the under-23 teams from Mexico and the United States. And form has held in the six-nation qualifying tournament.

But neither the Mexicans nor the Americans have had unobstructed routes into tonight's matchups. Both enter with 1-0-1 records -- 3-0 wins and grueling ties apiece -- from group play. Guatemala, actually the first team to qualify for tonight, has the same record; Honduras is 1-1-0.

U.S. coach Clive Charles said after Tuesday's rough-and-tumble, scoreless draw with Canada that he expects extra-motivated players tonight -- the team's goal of being one of the final 16 in the world in Sydney being at stake.

"Just when you think you're where you should be, you can get bitten," Charles said, referring to his team's flat play at times against Canada. "We can play better. ... We didn't have quite the edge we had [in beating Honduras last Friday], but we'll have it Friday night, that's for sure."

The Americans will have at least one new starter, central defender Dan Califf, a Californian who dropped out of Maryland last season to turn pro with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Califf will start in place of captain Brian Dunseth, out after being red-carded against Canada for what he acknowledged was a silly retaliation foul.

The Americans also are evaluating starting goalkeeper Adin Brown, a rugged, 6-foot-4 dominator from William and Mary and more recently the Colorado Rapids who missed the Canada game with a knee problem sustained in practice. His sub, Tim Howard, played well against Canada.

U.S midfielder Peter Vagenas described Guatemala this way: "Technically, they're all very, very good on the ball, and their forwards look like they're a handful. But if we come out and play like we can, I don't think it should be much of a problem."

Olympic qualifying

Who: Mexico-Honduras, United States-Guatemala. Winners qualify for the Sydney Games and play Sunday afternoon for the tournament title.

When: 5: 30 and 8 tonight, respectively

Where: Hersheypark Stadium, Hershey, Pa., about 90 minutes north of Baltimore.

Tickets: 717-534-3911. Prices range up to $25 for the doubleheader, depending on seat location. Credit cards accepted.

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