- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

Is this the way to play in San Jose?

When Wales meets the U.S. team in an exhibition game at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif., on Monday, it will bring a bare bones team, leaving most of its big-name players at home. That said, the American team also will be missing many key stars. Still, this historic encounter between the two teams could produce an exciting Memorial Day matchup. Ranked 50th by FIFA, Wales is no longer a minnow on the world scene.

The Welsh currently lead Group Nine in Euro 2004 qualifying competition after they defeated mighty Italy 2-1 to earn a 4-0 record. Wales is also riding a record 10-match unbeaten run and would like to keep the streak going against the 10th-ranked Americans, who reached last year’s World Cup quarterfinals. Wales reached the World Cup once, in 1958, and was the first team Pele scored against in his brilliant World Cup career.

Welsh coach Mark Hughes found his team depleted after 18 key players pulled out of the trip to America due to injuries, paternity leave and playoff games. One report said it was the most devastating sequence of withdrawals in Wales’ 127-year history of international soccer. The team will be missing big-name players such as Ryan Giggs (Manchester United), Craig Bellamy (Newcastle), Robbie Savage (Birmingham City) and John Hartson (Celtic).

Hughes was forced to call on players from the English League’s Division One and Division Two in order to fill out his roster.

The American team is also missing its big guns.

United States team coach Bruce Arena’s roster is heavily dominated with players from D.C. United and the San Jose Earthquakes, who are on a break this weekend.

The 17-man roster includes six United players — Bobby Convey, Alecko Eskandarian, Nick Rimando, Ben Olsen, Mike Petke and Earnie Stewart — five San Jose players, and one Chicago Fire player. Four overseas players — Eddie Lewis (Preston, England), Jovan Kirovski (Birmingham, England), Greg Vanney (F.C. Bastia, France) and Joe Cannon (Lens, France) — have also joined the team.

Also training with the American team for the Wales match is World Cup captain Claudio Reyna (Sunderland, England), who won’t play in the game but is getting his first training with the team since he injured his knee last October. Reyna, 29, seems to have changed his mind about retiring from the national team.

“I feel good, especially now after this injury,” Reyna told U.S. Soccer. “I’m really ready to go again and get this team back to the World Cup.”

The Welsh will use the game to prepare for their Euro 2004 qualifier against Serbia-Montenegro in August, while the Americans are preparing to play Brazil, Cameroon and Turkey in the eight-nation FIFA Confederations Cup from June18-29 in France.

The Memorial Day match will be broadcast live on ESPN2 at 10p.m.

Those tying games — It’s quite unusual that six weeks into the 10-team Major League Soccer season, four clubs — the Los Angeles Galaxy, D.C. United, Colorado Rapids and the Dallas Burn — still have yet to win a game. The Galaxy, who won the title last year, have tied four games this season — one more than all of last season. United, which tied just five games in 2002, has already tied four games in just six matches this year.

Bad break — Life delivered a cruel blow to Shannon MacMillan. The U.S. team forward tore the ACL in her right knee while playing for the San Diego Spirit against the Boston Breakers on Sunday. She will likely miss the Women’s World Cup in September. MacMillan, who scored four goals in the United States’ 6-1 win over Canada at RFK Stadium last month, had reconstructive surgery this week. The injury took place the day after she had played 45 minutes for the American team in its 6-0 win over England in Birmingham, Ala.

Down to the wire in Scotland — It couldn’t get much closer in the Scottish Premier League, where the top two teams have identical records. Glasgow Rangers (30-4-3, 94 points) and Glasgow Celtic (30-4-3, 94) are in a tight battle for the championship.

Rangers currently lead the league after scoring one more goal than Celtic. It all comes down to the last games of the season tomorrow, when Rangers host Dunfermline and Celtic travel to Kilmarnock. If the two clubs finish deadlocked on points, goal difference and goals scored, a championship playoff game will take place.

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