- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica (AP) Exuberant local fans shouted insults at the United States soccer team yesterday as the Americans got a glimpse of Saprissa Stadium.

"You guys are gonna lose," bellowed a man in a San Francisco Giants cap as coach Bruce Arena and the American team filed into the stadium through a protective corridor of police in riot helmets.

Others shouted crude epithets at the Americans, who entered last night's game, which did not end in time for this edition, with their first two-game losing streak in World Cup qualifying since 1980.

Costa Rica (5-1-1), seeking its first World Cup appearance since 1990, would qualify for next year's World Cup with a win over the Americans (4-2-2).

Costa Rica coach Alexandre Guimaraes called it "the game of my life" in a brief interview published yesterday by the newspaper Al Dia.

The United States, which has never won a qualifier in Costa Rica, would be virtually assured of a berth with a wins, probably needing at most one more point in its last two games of the regional finals. Still ahead for the Americans are a home game against Jamaica (2-3-2) on Oct. 7 in Foxboro, Mass., and a road game at Trinidad and Tobago (0-6-1).

The Americans, seeking their fourth straight World Cup appearance, began the night in second place, three points behind Costa Rica, two points ahead of Honduras (3-2-2) and three ahead of Mexico (3-3-1). The North and Central American and Caribbean region will send three nations to next year's 32-nation tournament in Japan and South Korea.

In other games last night, Honduras was at home against Jamaica and Mexico was at home against Trinidad and Tobago.

The jeers at the gate were a small taste of what the U.S. team expected for the game at Saprissa, a 17,000-seat stadium that puts fans a few feet from the playing field. The game was sold out, despite predictions of possible thundershowers.

At least 1,000 police were detailed for security, and local television ran warnings for fans to leave glass bottles, metal pipes, knives and pistols at home.

Batteries, screws, nails, glass and a bottle of spit were hurled at U.S. players during a 2-1 loss at Costa Rica in December 1996. A last-minute penalty kick led to another 2-1 defeat at Saprissa in last year's semifinals.

Arena promised to make "a couple of changes" from Saturday's lineup, when the United States lost to Honduras 3-2 at RFK Stadium in Washington. But he didn't give specifics.

"They are not going to risk much because they know they have two games with the Caribbean teams," Costa Rica midfielder Mauricio Solis told the newspaper La Republica.

Venders selling Costa Rican flags, jerseys and hats lined up along highways and street sidewalks early in the day and many drivers put national flags on their antennas.

"I don't care what the score is as long as we win," said Gerardo Rodriguez, a 34-year-old truck driver who said he would be at the game.

"The gringos are afraid of the stadium," he said. "And with reason."


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