- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 1, 2001

It's being called "Breakfast on East Capitol Street."
Before most people will have cleared their breakfast dishes on the East Coast today, the U.S. national team will have kicked off its critical World Cup qualifier against Honduras at RFK Stadium at the unusual kickoff time of 10 a.m. It's rare that a major soccer game is played at such a crazy hour, but this is America and soccer has to take what it can get.
Can you imagine the Redskins playing at FedEx Field at 10 in the morning? The Hogettes would throw a fit.
So how did this insanity come about?
The World Cup calendar required that the game be played either today or tomorrow. U.S. coach Bruce Arena wisely preferred to schedule the match today so his players got an extra day's rest before the big game at Costa Rica on Wednesday. But the only available television slot open on the Disney-owned networks (ABC, ESPN and ESPN2) was at 10 a.m.
An afternoon game would have been ideal for the 55,000-plus fans who paid between $40-$80 a ticket for today's sellout. That wasn't possible because ABC and ESPN are booked for college football, while ESPN2 has drag racing. Repeat: A giant World Cup qualifier loses out to drag racing.
Still, no one in the U.S. team camp seems to be complaining openly. Some players think the early schedule will give them an edge against a very tough Central American team.
"I don't think it's an unusual time. I think it's a good time," said midfielder Cobi Jones, who, with the rest of his teammates will have to crawl out of bed early today for breakfast at 7. "It's good for us. It might be difficult for them but every country uses everything it can to better its chances. Is it fair that Mexico plays at 1:30 in the afternoon at Azteca Stadium where it's hot and smoggy? It's part of the game. It's gamesmanship and every country does it. I think the U.S. has to learn how to do it better."
Let's hope Cobi is right, because a win today will almost certainly put the Americans on the road to their fourth consecutive World Cup and nobody will be complaining then about losing their beauty sleep.
The U.S. team and Costa Rica are tied for first place in the final qualifying standings with a 4-1-1 record and 13 points, followed by Honduras and Jamaica at 2-2-2 with eight points and Mexico at 2-3-1 with seven points. Three teams from the region earn World Cup berths.
Although a victory over Honduras does not mathematically clinch a place at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, it's hard to see the U.S. team not advancing with 16 points and three games still on the schedule, including a home game against Jamaica at Foxboro, Mass., next month.
"If we get a victory in this next game, we'll be pretty set," Jones said.
In 1998, the Americans reached the finals in France with 17 points, behind Mexico (18 points), while Jamaica claimed the third berth with just 14 points.
The U.S. team is on a 19-game home unbeaten run (14-0-5) in World Cup qualifying games and has recorded seven clean sheets in their last nine qualifying games.
But Honduras is sure to test the U.S. team, which won 2-1 at Honduras in March. Since that loss the "Catrachos" have had their confidence boosted after defeating four-time World Champion Brazil in this summer's Copa America.
"I expect it to be a close game," American midfielder Chris Armas said.
The Americans have a (7-2-3) record at RFK and have not lost there since 1996.
Who starts? A veil of secrecy has surrounded the U.S. team this week. All the training sessions at George Mason University were closed, which makes one think coach Bruce Arena may have some surprises in his lineup today.
The big question is who will he start in goal and who will lead the attack?
Arena will likely go with goalie Brad Friedel over Kasey Keller. Friedel has been in action recently with Blackburn in England, including a game against English champs Manchester United, while Keller has been on the bench at Tottenham Hotspur.
On the forward line Arena is missing a slew of first-choice strikers. With Josh Wolff, Clint Mathis, Brian McBride and Ante Rasov all off the team with injuries, Arena might have to throw MLS star Landon Donovan (San Jose) into the deep end and give the 19-year-old his first start in a major qualifier.
Gridiron game at RFK? American football returned to RFK yesterday with a Central American flavor.
The Honduran national team spent its final training session before its crucial game against the U.S. team playing American touch football. And Redskins they were not. At times the game resembled a cross between rugby and basketball as the Hondurans had difficulty getting used to catching the pigskin.
Earnie is hot American forward Earnie Stewart, who likely will start in the central midfield role of injured Claudio Reyna, warmed up for today's game by scoring two goals last week for his Dutch club NAC Breda's 3-3 tie with FC Twente.
Stewart has netted 104 goals in his 13-year professional career in Holland, the most ever for an American playing in Europe. The 32-year-old attacking midfielder is the all-time leading scorer for the U.S. team in World Cup qualifying games with seven goals, including the first goal in the 2-1 win at Honduras in March.

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