- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 11, 2002

In May 1998, just before the World Cup in France, the U.S. team dropped by RFK Stadium to play World Cup-bound Scotland. The game was a drab scoreless tie. The only excitement came when American defender Eddie Pope mistakenly gave up the ball, forcing Kasey Keller to pull off a sensational save. It was clear the team had problems.
French-based defender David Regis had been a U.S. citizen for two weeks and was playing in only his second game much to the chagrin of some veteran American players. In the wake of coach Steve Sampson's decision to drop captain John Harkes, team chemistry was suffering.
The game was ominous. At the finals in France, the Americans lost all three games and caught an early plane home.
Fast forward four years, and the American team is back at RFK on the eve of another World Cup. Tomorrow the Americans take on Uruguay in the first of three home games before heading off later this month to the 2002 World Cup co-hosted by Japan and South Korea.
Expect tomorrow's game to be a far different affair than the Scotland match. No-nonsense American coach Bruce Arena has molded together an attacking-minded team which is loyal, positive and united. Arena has avoided making surprise additions to the squad and John Harkes-type fiascos.
"We just have better team chemistry among the guys," Pope said. "Any one guy can hang out with any other guy, even though there are age differences, guys who play in Europe and guys who play over here. Those of us who were involved in 1998 are attempting to use that experience to our advantage. The mistakes that were made are mistakes that we don't want to repeat."
In the past four years things have changed dramatically for the U.S. team. More American players are honing their skills in overseas leagues, while others have six years of playing in Major League Soccer under their belts.
"The fact that we do have a professional league and that we are able to play on a consistent basis and train on a consistent basis with other professional players has certainly helped this World Cup team," Pope said.
While it will be tough going for the Americans to advance out of their group in South Korea, which includes the Koreans, Portugal and Poland, it's expected the team will put up a better fight than it did in France.
The American team has two world-class goalies in Keller and Brad Friedel. Defenders such as Pope and Jeff Agoos are wiser four years on, and young players like Landon Donovan and Pablo Mastroeni have given the team added depth it lacked in the past. But most of all, the Americans may have finally found a proven goal scorer in Clint Mathis.
Coaches in Europe have been taking note of Mathis, ever since the swaggering MetroStars striker scored two goals against Germany in the U.S. team's 4-2 loss in March.
For the game against Uruguay, the U.S. team will be missing team captain Claudio Reyna, Eddie Lewis, John O'Brien and Keller, all of whom have club commitments in Europe.
Reyna will play in Sunderland's relegation battle against Derby, while Keller will be in the nets for Tottenham Hotspur's final game of the season at relegated Leicester.
Uruguay will also be without many of its European-based players, including Manchester United star Diego Forlan. The two-time world champions (1934 and 1950) reached this year's World Cup through the back door following a two-game playoff with Australia after coming in fifth in South American qualifying. The U.S. holds a 1-2-2 all-time record against Uruguay, with the last meeting coming in 1995, a 2-2 tie at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. Uruguay, placed in Group A with France, Denmark and Senegal in South Korea, will be the eighth World Cup team that the U.S. has played this year.
On Thursday the U.S. team take on Jamaica at Giants Stadium before finishing the "Road to Korea" tour against Holland on May 19 at Foxboro Stadium, Mass.
Clint moving eastward A number of European clubs, including Italian team Perugia and German giants Bayern Munich, have approached the MLS about American striker Clint Mathis.
"Clearly there are a lot of teams watching him," MLS deputy commissioner Ivan Gazidis said. "I would suspect that nothing will happen before the World Cup. Our first preference, as we've said all along, is that Clint will sign a long-term contract with Major League Soccer."
Reports say Mathis, 25, could be worth $3 million in a transfer fee.
Ironman Jeff It seems amazing, but U.S. defender Jeff Agoos, according the statisticians at U.S. Soccer, has recorded exactly 9,999 minutes of playing time since his first appearance for the American team on Jan. 10, 1988 against Guatemala. Agoos, who turned 34 last week, has played 127 times for the Americans, one behind Marcelo Balboa for second place on the all-time list.
Midfielder Cobi Jones leads in all-time appearances with 153.

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