- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

SEOUL, South Korea American soccer has come a long way: The United States is the favorite going into tomorrow's game against Poland. The players say they won't deserve to advance to the second round of the World Cup if they can't get at least a tie.

British bookmaker Ladbrokes lists the United States as an 8-11 favorite to beat the Poles, who already have been eliminated, and has lowered the Americans' odds of winning the World Cup from 250-1 to 125-1. The U.S. team has a chance to go through the first round unbeaten for the first time since 1930, yet much of the team thinks the soccer world treats them like dirt.

"A lot of teams still don't respect us," said 20-year-old midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, among the new breed of player out to change U.S. soccer's image. "We've done pretty well in the World Cup and are [ranked] 13th in the world, but they don't know that."

Coming into this month, the Americans had been 1-8-1 since their return to the World Cup in 1990, advancing past the first round only in 1994, when they were the hosts. In 1990 and again in 1998, they went 0-3, finishing last among the 32 teams four years ago.

With their 3-2 upset of fifth-ranked Portugal and their 1-1 tie with co-host South Korea in front of 61,000 roaring, hostile fans, the Americans moved within one point of a second-round matchup with either Italy, Mexico or Croatia. They would advance with a win, a tie or even a loss if South Korea either beats the Portuguese or loses in a rout that swings goal difference.

"I think we better win the game outright," defender Eddie Pope said yesterday. "I think it's dangerous to try and play for a tie. That's certainly something that I don't think most of the guys feel comfortable with. I think that if we go out and play hard and do the things we've done in the past, and do the right things, we have an opportunity to win."

A couple million soccer fans got up early or stayed up late to watch the first two games, which began at 5 a.m. and 2:30 a.m. EDT. The game against Poland in Daejeon starts at 7:30 a.m. on the East Coast.

"I'm hopeful that our play in this World Cup will help the sport grow in the United States, help our professional league, and help everyone down the line, as well," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "It's very encouraging to see that kind of support, we're real thrilled by it and proud of it."

Heading into the final group games, South Korea and the United States are both 1-0-1 with four points, followed by Portugal (1-1) with three and Poland (0-2), with none. South Korea leads 3-1 on goal difference. The Americans have scored four and given up three.

If the Americans and South Koreans finish with identical goals for and against which would happen if the United States loses 1-0 and the Portuguese win 3-1 a South Korean volunteer would draw a ball from a pot to decide which team advances.

"All drawings will be in Seoul 60 minutes after the games in question," FIFA spokesman Keith Cooper said.

There hasn't been a World Cup tie broken like that since 1990, when a drawing of lots separated Ireland and the Netherlands, which both went 0-0-3.

But both nations were assured of advancing; the lottery determined only their opponents.

"That would be a disaster after getting three points in the first game," forward Joe-Max Moore said. "If it came down to a coin flip, it would be a disaster for the team."

If the Americans finish second, they would play their second-round game Monday.

If they win the group, they would get an extra day off and play Tuesday.

"I think that we need to put our best team on the field. I think if we get too cute and try to play ahead, we're going to get ourselves in trouble," Arena said.

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