- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

The U.S. team will walk into a caldron tomorrow when it takes the field against Mexico at 100,000-seat Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, but unlike in the past, it's the Mexican players who will have their backs against the wall.
Bottles, coins and bags of urine, usually reserved for American targets, likely will be aimed at the green shirts of the Tri-Color if Mexico comes up empty.
Winless in six games, Mexico is desperate for a victory to salvage its World Cup hopes, and nothing short of a win will please its demanding fans.
With 13 points in five games, the Americans would be delighted with a tie. A victory would send the U.S. team into delirium and virtually assure a trip to its fourth consecutive World Cup.
"If we play well and stick to our game plan, we have an opportunity to get some points from this match," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.
Once the dominant soccer power in the North and Central American and Caribbean region (CONCACAF), Mexico is in danger of not playing in the World Cup for the first time since 1990, when it was banned after using overage players in a youth tournament. Before that, it last failed to qualify in 1982.
After last week's 3-1 loss at Honduras, Mexico coach Enrique Meza quit and was replaced by Javier Aguirre.
"We're up against the clock," said Aguirre, who has revamped his roster for the game.
Ranked the fourth-best team in the world before the 1998 World Cup, Mexico (1-3-1) now stands fifth in the six-team CONCACAF qualifying group. Only the top three teams in the group advance to the World Cup in Japan and South Korea, with the United States, Costa Rica and Honduras looking like favorites to make the trip.
Midway through the qualifying round, the U.S. team (4-0-1, 13 points) leads the regional finals, followed by Costa Rica (3-1-1, 10 points), Honduras (2-1-2, 8 points), Jamaica (1-2-2, 5 points), Mexico (1-3-1, 4 points) and Trinidad and Tobago (0-4-1, 1 point).
Mexico still has a chance of making the finals, but there is no margin for mistakes in its next five games.
A trip to Azteca Stadium 7,350 feet above sea level is daunting for any team, but the myth of Mexico's invincibility there was dispelled June 16 when Costa Rica beat the Tri-Color 2-1. The shocking defeat was Mexico's first home loss in a qualifying match and its first home loss in any game since a 1981 defeat by Spain in an exhibition.
The U.S. team will be buoyed by confidence, boasting a strong defense that has given up just one goal in its last nine qualifying games. Mexico, no doubt, will attack in waves, while the Americans try to absorb the pressure and try to catch a goal on a counterattack.
"I think any time they play at home at Azteca, they're charged up," Arena said. "Certainly with some fresh blood in the lineup trying to prove themselves and a new coach … I think they're going to come out throwing everything they can at us."
Meanwhile, Arena has dropped goalie Brad Friedel for the game. It is rumored that Friedel is disgruntled at playing behind Kasey Keller, and Arena says the goalie requested some time off.
The U.S. team also will be missing its captain and playmaker, Claudio Reyna, who is suspended. Joe-Max Moore, Cobi Jones and Jovan Kirovski likely will take on Reyna's attacking midfield role.
Missing in action While the Washington Freedom will be missing three key players today Mia Hamm, Siri Mullinix and Michelle French, who are on duty with the U.S. team the visiting Carolina Courage will be without forward Hege Riise (two goals, four assists), goalie Bente Nordby and forward Silvana Burtini (two goals).
Riise and Nordby are playing for Norway at the European Championship in Germany, and Burtini will be in Canada's lineup against the U.S. team in Toronto today.
Price gouging or what? The cheapest ticket for the RFK Stadium doubleheader Sept. 1 (the U.S. team's World Cup qualifier against Honduras, followed by D.C. United's clash with Tampa Bay) is a whopping $40 for an end-line seat. After that, it's $45 for the sideline, $65 for midfield and $85 for mezzanine. And all this for an event that kicks off at 10 a.m.
A family of four could be out $200 if you throw in the parking fee, drinks and food. Didn't Pele call soccer the poor man's game?
A U.S. soccer official said the game is expected be a sellout grossing $1.8 million or more, with D.C. United possibly getting a cut of $500,000.
Officials will argue that fans are getting two games for the price of one. Fair enough. But compare the prices to tonight's doubleheader at RFK starting at 5 p.m., when the Washington Freedom takes on the Carolina Courage followed by D.C. United's clash with Colorado. Those tickets are a bargain at $15 to $36.
Cup upsets Four Major League Soccer teams were dumped out of the second round of the U.S. Open Cup by minor league teams this week.
The biggest surprise was the Seattle Sounders Select team of the Premier Development League downing the Dallas Burn 3-2 in overtime in Texas. The Sounders Select is a youth farm club of the A-League's Seattle Sounders.
Elsewhere, the A-League's Charleston Battery beat the New York/New Jersey MetroStars 4-1 before 4,097 in Charleston, S.C. Also, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (A-League) beat the Colorado Rapids 2-0, and the Connecticut (A-League) Wolves downed Tampa Bay 3-2.
Also in U.S. Cup action, the Milwaukee Rampage (A-League) beat the visiting Utah Blitzz (D3 Pro) 2-0 on goals by Waldorf, Md., native and former D.C. United player David Hayes.

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