- The Washington Times - Friday, December 5, 2003

The long road to the 2006 World Cup in Germany begins for the United States against the Caribbean island of Grenada or the South America nation of Guyana on June13 at a U.S. site to be determined.

At yesterday’s World Cup Draw in Frankfurt, Germany, the American team coached by Fairfax-based Bruce Arena was drawn to play the winner of the Grenada-Guyana two-game series. To reach the 32-team World Cup, the U.S. team will have to play 18 or 20 qualifying games in the CONCACAF region. The Americans have played in every World Cup since 1990 and had its best record in 2002, when it bowed out in the quarterfinals after a 1-0 loss to Germany in South Korea.

On paper Grenada would appear to be the favorite to face the American team.

“We want to kick off this campaign in the right way,” Arena said in a conference call. “The U.S. team is now a target for everyone. So [are] Costa Rica and Mexico. Teams will be much more prepared with more resources available this time around [when they play us].”

The Americans have never played Guyana or Grenada. If the U.S. team gets past its first opponent in the home-and-away series, it is likely to compete against El Salvador, Jamaica and Panama in the semifinal round next fall. The top two teams from that round will progress to the six-team final group, where the U.S. could face top seeds Mexico and Costa Rica. Those games will be played between Feb.9 and Oct.12, 2005.

The top three teams in the final round automatically earn berths to the World Cup, with the fourth-best team from the CONCACAF region meeting the fifth-best Asian qualifier for a berth in the finals.

In other highlights of the World Cup Draw, England was drawn in Group6, with neighbors Wales and Northern Ireland. Second-seeded Holland was placed in Group1, headed by the Czech Republic. Italy will play with Slovenia, Scotland, Norway, Belarus and Moldova in Group5, while France plays Ireland, Switzerland, Israel, Cyprus and the Faroe Islands in Group4.

Youth tournament — The U.S. Under-20 team, captained by D.C. United’s Bobby Convey, advanced to the second round of the FIFA World Youth Championship by beating South Korea 2-0 yesterday in the United Arab Emirates and winning its group ahead of Paraguay.

Ed Johnson converted penalty kicks in the 13th and 24th minutes to give the Americans the victory, which set up a second-round game Monday against Ivory Coast, with the winner going on to play Argentina or Egypt in the quarterfinals.

D.C. United’s Freddy Adu started his first game of the tournament and played 70 minutes.

Other second-round games Monday are Japan-South Korea, Burkina Faso-Canada and Argentina-Egypt. Tuesday’s schedule includes Brazil-Slovakia, Australia-UAE, Paraguay-Spain and Ireland-Colombia.

United injuries — An MRI yesterday indicated that D.C. United forward Thiago Martins had torn the ACL in his left knee. The injury occurred in a United training session Tuesday.

The Brazilian, who joined the club from the Pittsburgh Riverhounds (A-League) in September and played six games, will be out for six months. Meanwhile, midfielder Devin Barclay, 20, underwent surgery on his right shoulder this week and will be out three to four months.

Farewell, Ray — My heart sank when I heard that D.C. United had fired coach Ray Hudson this week. I liked Hudson and felt he deserved another year after getting the team into the playoffs for the first time in four years under very difficult conditions. United suffered major injuries, and Hudson had to mold a team that included some difficult personalities using pathetic facilities.

Hudson said this week he had been “deluged with calls” from all over the country but didn’t want to talk about his exit from the club just yet.

The British-born coach may not have been a cool-headed tactician like Bruce Arena or Dave Sarachan, but he brought needed passion to the game and had an instinctive understanding of the sport. He was always honest, humble and willing to listen to others.

Hudson was far from perfect. He traded away talented youngsters Mark Lisi and Justin Mapp, but he did bring in midfielder Dema Kovalenko and defender Mike Petke and, according to the stats, built the best defense in United’s history.

Hudson was not always in good health this year — he suffered from ulcers and a stress-related ailment — but he always had a smile and gave you his time. A good rest back home in Florida will do him good. We wish him all the best.

Corner kicks — American World Cup star Clint Mathis began a weeklong tryout with Glasgow Rangers on Monday. Mathis, 27, had a tryout with English Premier League club Leicester City last month. …

Scotland’s Celtic FC will return to North America for two games in next summer’s ChampionsWorld Series. Dates and opponents are still to be determined, but Celtic is confirmed to play once in the Boston area and once in Toronto, between July21 and Aug.1.

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