- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 8, 2001

Call 911. Things are looking bleak for the United States as it attempts to qualify for its fourth consecutive World Cup.

A little more than a week ago the Americans were tied for first place in the region's six-team qualifying group. They could almost smell the sushi and kimchi waiting for them at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Now, not even a warm beer or a dry pretzel will be in the offing if the Americans can't win their last two games.

After losses to Honduras and Costa Rica, the United States has dropped to fourth in the qualifying group. Only three teams advance to the finals, and Costa Rica has already claimed one of those berths. With two games left in the campaign, the Americans are now neck-and-neck with Mexico and Honduras for one of the final two spots.

With the pressure building, U.S. coach Bruce Arena has made a few slip-ups.

Arena heaped blame for the U.S. loss against Honduras at RFK Stadium on defender David Regis, which seemed unusual for a coach on the international stage. Players won't trust you if you start nailing them in public. Didn't Arena learn that from the Steve Sampson era?

Then against Costa Rica, Arena dramatically changed his lineup, sending out seven defensive players, which almost begged the Central Americans to take some target practice. The Ticos kindly obliged, scoring two goals and putting the Americans in a deep hole. Where was the proud and confident American team that was robbed of a tie at Costa Rica last year? An away game at Costa Rica shouldn't scare a team.

Let's look on the bright side: If the Americans fail to qualify, Arena could always come back to the District and revive his career with D.C. United.

I joke and I know this is serious stuff, but honestly it's getting painful watching the Americans self-destruct.

Failing to reach the 2002 finals would be a major setback for the national team program and for soccer in general in America, where only winners matter and the attention span for soccer is short. The American team would have nothing to play for until 2004.

"This is not an easy ride," Arena said after the recent debacle at RFK. "I didn't expect it to be smooth."

Arena desperately needs someone else who can score goals other than midfielder Earnie Stewart. Hopefully, by the time the Jamaica game comes around, Arena will have Chicago Fire forward Ante Razov available. How about bringing back veteran forward Eric Wynalda, who has 10 goals in just 11 starts for Chicago this season?

Of the three teams left in the race, Arena's boys have the easiest schedule, playing the two weakest teams Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago while Mexico must travel to Costa Rica and Honduras must visit Mexico. If the U.S. team can't beat Jamaica (2-4-2) or Trinidad and Tobago (0-7-1), it honestly doesn't deserve to be in the World Cup.

The United States (4-3-1) should beat Jamaica at Foxboro, Mass., on Oct. 7. It's the game at Trinidad and Tobago on Nov. 11 that could pose some problems.

The Caribbean team hasn't won a game in the final round of qualifying, but it remembers how 12 years ago the U.S. team stopped it from reaching the 1990 World Cup and would like to return the favor.

At the time, Trinidad and Tobago needed only a tie to qualify and become the smallest nation to reach the World Cup. But an amazing goal by Paul Caligiuri sealed the game for the United States and set the Americans on a decade in which they participated in three World Cups after 40 years in soccer's wilderness.

It would be ironic indeed for the Americans to go down in Trinidad and Tobago, where all its recent success began.

There are a number of scenarios in which the Americans can qualify:

• The U.S. team qualifies with two wins. That would give the team 19 points, and Mexico and Honduras both can't reach 19 points.

• The U.S. team qualifies with a win and a tie if Mexico loses at Costa Rica.

• The U.S. qualifies even with two ties if Mexico and Honduras falter badly.

Soccer is strange Soccer is a funny game.

Take, for instance, Holland, which has one of the finest groups of players in Europe. The Dutch downed England 3-0 recently in an exhibition game with a brilliant display of soccer but are out of the World Cup after a 1-0 defeat at Ireland.

Then there's the case of the English.

After losing 1-0 to Germany in its last game at famed Wembley Stadium, the English went on a rampage in Munich last week, blasting Germany 5-1.

Who would have dreamed of such a result?

The odds of England beating Germany 5-1 were 150-to-1 at William Hill, a British betting company.

Once upon a time it was easy to predict international results; now any team can win on any given day.

MLS notes D.C. United has to win today at Miami and hope that Dallas loses at Chicago and San Jose beats Kansas City on the road. United is eliminated from the playoffs if it loses and if either Dallas or Kansas City wins.

After today's game Dallas plays United on Wednesday and the Fire at home on Sept. 15. Kansas City will have one game remaining against the weak Colorado Rapids.

United midfielder Bobby Convey will miss the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot.


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