U.S., Honduras get early start

Americans can get closer to World Cup spot with win today at RFK


September 01, 2001|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - For the U.S. men's national team, there's no need to look forward and no reason to look back.

Tied for first with Costa Rica in the Football Confederation's final qualifying round, the U.S. team almost can assure itself one of three spots from North and Central America and the Caribbean in next summer's World Cup in Japan and South Korea with a positive result against Honduras today.

The game starts at 10 a.m. (ESPN2) at sold-out RFK Stadium and will be followed by a Major League Soccer match between D.C. United and the Tampa Bay Mutiny.

With a 4-1-1 mark and 13 points in the 10-match final round, the Americans are coming off their only loss, a 1-0 setback in Mexico on July 1, and have another pivotal match at Costa Rica (also 4-1-1) waiting on Wednesday.

The top three in the six-team bracket advance to World Cup play, and Honduras, coming off a third-place showing at the Copa America tournament that included a 2-0 win over Brazil, finds itself tied with Jamaica at 2-2-2 in quest of that last invitation.

In the teams' first meeting in Honduras on March 28, the United States scored a 2-1 win.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena says none of that stuff matters much.

"Every game is different," he said. "You can't look at our last game against Mexico and think that you can know what will happen [today]. You can't look at Honduras' last game in Copa America or our last game with them. Every game takes on a new personality, and that's the interesting part of the game. We'll see how the game unfolds early [today]."

The U.S. men concluded preparations with a light, hourlong practice that included a full-field scrimmage at RFK yesterday morning. Despite injuries to forwards Brian McBride, Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff and midfielder Claudio Reyna (all out for today's game), the team is confident it can come away with a positive outcome, fully aware of the urgency and offensive firepower that comes with Honduras.

Forwards Carlos Pavon, Milton Nunez and Saul Martinez, along with midfielder Amado Guevara, lead a Honduras attack that's quick to counter and provides constant pressure though the midfield. The Hondurans' 13 goals lead the six-team group.

"If we keep our shape defensively and play with the intensity that we know we can play with, then I don't think we'll have a problem with getting the result that we want," said American goalkeeper Brad Friedel, who was in goal for the team's win in Honduras and is expected to get the start today over Kasey Keller.

Arena will likely turn to veteran midfielder Earnie Stewart to take over the playmaking chores normally carried by Reyna, who re-injured a groin muscle last week playing for his Scottish club team, the Glasgow Rangers.

Landon Donovan, a 19-year-old forward, may make his first appearance in a World Cup qualifier.

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