- The Washington Times - Friday, September 3, 2004

With back-to-back World Cup qualifying games on the line, U.S. team coach Bruce Arena has called in his heavy hitters from overseas.

The Americans play host to El Salvador today in Foxboro, Mass., before meeting Panama in Panama City on Wednesday.

Thirteen European-based players are on Arena’s 23-man roster, with the rest coming from Major League Soccer. The only key American not crossing the Atlantic is 2002 World Cup star goalie Brad Friedel of Blackburn Rovers in England. Friedel played in Blackburn’s 1-1 tie with Manchester United on Saturday, but Arena said the goalie was not a “100 percent” fit.

Arena likely will go with Tottenham Hotspur goalie Kasey Keller against El Salvador, with Manchester United keeper Tim Howard as the backup. Keller is the all-time leader in wins (39) and shutouts (34) for the United States.

After one game in the semifinal round of qualifying, El Salvador leads Group A. Last month El Salvador downed Panama 2-1, and the United States earned a 1-1 tie at Jamaica. The top two teams from the group will advance to the six-team final round.

It’s crucial that the Americans take three points at home today because it is tough playing on the road in Central America, where the crowds are hostile and the conditions are difficult.

“El Salvador is the team on top of our group and, obviously, a team we feel we need to beat if we have hopes of going forward into the last group of six next spring,” Arena said. “We’ve named what I feel is one of our strongest rosters since the World Cup.”

No players have been called up from D.C. United — not even Earnie Stewart, who played against Jamaica. There once was a time when five or six United players would be called up for the American team.

“In terms of Earnie, I didn’t select him on this roster for a variety of reasons, which I don’t feel are necessary to make public at this time,” Arena said.

The American team includes former United midfielder Bobby Convey, who will return to the United States for the first time since joining Reading of England in July. San Jose forward Brian Ching, who leads MLS with 11 goals and tied the game against Jamaica, also might see action today.

Two players looking to make their debut for the team are forward Eddie Johnson, who has scored nine goals for the Dallas Burn this season, and defender Oguchi Onyewu of Olney, who plays for Belgium club Standard Liege.

World Cup notes — Former D.C. United forward Hristo Stoitchkov (2002 and 2003) will face his first test as coach of the Bulgarian national team today in a World Cup qualifier at Iceland. … In other important Cup qualifiers, England visits Austria, France plays host to Israel and Italy meets Norway. Germany plays 2002 World Cup champion Brazil in an exhibition game in Berlin on Wednesday.

United news — D.C. United (6-8-9) will seek its first road win of the season today at Chicago (6-10-9). United earned ties in its last two games — both on the road — but will be looking to gain three points at Chicago, which is coming off a 3-1 defeat of Kansas City and is just a point behind United in the Eastern Conference. Chicago is without key players Damani Ralph and Andy Williams, who are playing for Jamaica, while United will miss defender Ezra Hendrickson, who is on national team duty for St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The Fire supplemented its roster this week by signing Andy Herron, 26, who is on loan from Costa Rican team Club Sport Herediano.

Milestone — Georgetown coach Keith Tabatznik (200-170-20) earned his 200th win when the Hoyas downed Delaware this week.

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