Stars will shine today at RFK

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Ten years ago the United States successfully staged the most profitable and best-attended World Cup in history.

Critics were surprised when the Americans advanced out of a tough group that included Colombia, Romania and Switzerland. The U.S. team finally went down on a lone goal to eventual champion Brazil on July4.

The American team is now ranked seventh in the world. Top European clubs seem eager to sign up Yankee talent, and Major League Soccer is an established pro league with soccer-specific stadiums built or in planning stages.

Many of the players who helped earn respect for American soccer over the last 10 years will be at RFK Stadium today to compete in the MLS World Legends vs. MLS USA Legends game, a 50-minute match at 12:30 before the MLS All-Star Game at 2p.m. The Legends game will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 1994 World Cup and the players who competed.

“I think the success of the 1994 team launched the sport in this country and drew investors to MLS,” said Paul Caligiuri, who played on the 1994 World Cup team. “We won over a lot of American sports fans.”

Sixteen Americans from the 1994 World Cup squad will play a team of international players who competed in MLS, including Colombian midfielder Carlos Valderrama, Mexican goalie Jorge Campos and Bolivian star Marco Etcheverry.

“It’s scary seeing these guys [from 1994],” former American star John Harkes said jokingly after training yesterday at RFK. “Some of these guys have restraining orders on them. Seriously, it’s going to be a very competitive game, and I’m fit.”

The only players missing from the 22-man 1994 roster are Roy Wegerle, Earnie Stewart, Mike Lapper, Claudio Reyna, Joe-Max Moore and Brad Friedel.

Cobi Jones (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Tony Meola (MetroStars) are two players on the USA Legends team still playing in MLS.

“The 1994 World Cup was the launching pad for what we call the era of modern American soccer,” MLS commissioner Don Garber said yesterday. “The World Cup left behind a legacy … including the initial seed money for MLS. … We are a soccer nation, it’s right here. You don’t have to go to Mexico or Europe. It’s right here in your home town.”

All-Star game changes — There have been a few changes to the All-Star Game’s starting rosters since the votes were counted. Missing from the Eastern Conference team is D.C. United defender Ryan Nelsen, who is injured, and Chicago Fire midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, who was traded to Dutch club PSV Eindhoven. Columbus defender Robin Fraser replaces Nelsen, and United midfielder Dema Kovalenko steps in for Beasley.

On the Western Conference team, Jimmy Conrad of the Kansas City Wizards takes over for injured Colorado Rapids defender Pablo Mastroeni.

Back to old times — Today’s game returns to the East-West format after a few years of experimentation. Last year the MLS All-Stars played Mexican club DC Guadalajara (Chivas), and in 2002 the All-Stars played the U.S. national team. This year’s game was originally slated to have the All-Stars play Real Madrid, but the game was rescheduled for Sept.21 when the All-Stars travel to Spain.

The last time the game came to RFK (2002) it was cut short by rain and lasted 75 minutes. Former United star Etcheverry won the MVP award as the All-Stars beat the U.S. national team 3-2.

Game officials said 19,000 tickets had been sold for today’s match, and they expect to sell out the downsized MLS capacity of 24,603.

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