- The Washington Times - Friday, February 4, 2005

The U.S. men’s team begins the second stage of its quest to reach the 2006 World Cup in Germany with a game in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Wednesday.

The Americans face 10 games this year — home-and-away matches against Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico, Guatemala and Panama — in the final round of qualifying. The U.S. team is seeking its fifth consecutive appearance at the World Cup and is co-favorite along with Mexico to win the regional group.

The top three teams automatically advance to the finals. The fourth-place finisher will meet the fifth-place finisher in Asian qualifying in a two-game playoff in November.

On paper, the Americans have an easy road, and failing to qualify is unthinkable. The U.S. team is ranked 11th in the world and reached the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup after downing Mexico. Coach Bruce Arena’s pool of players is deep, and many of his key stars are competing in Europe’s top leagues.

But the road to Germany has hit a few bumps.

A recent labor dispute forced Arena’s contingent of Major League Soccer stars to miss three weeks of training, and the team had to cancel important warmup games against Sweden and South Korea. The team did play Swedish club Hammarby, which was also training in Carson, Calif. The Swedish team is owned by Phil Anschutz, who also owns D.C. United and several other MLS teams.

After competing in weekend and midweek games, Arena’s overseas-based players, including DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, will join the squad. Beasley has been in excellent form recently for Dutch leaders PSV Eindhoven.

Trinidad and Tobago, meanwhile, has played in eight competitive international games since December but is one of the weaker teams in the group, along with Panama and Guatemala.

“Our opponents have been together for months,” Arena said. “When we step on the field, we are a group who haven’t been together since October.”

The Caribbean team has never been to a World Cup but nearly reached the 1990 finals before a 1-0 home loss to the United States in the last qualifying game. The islanders needed a tie to advance but were crushed when Paul Caligiuri’s stunning long-range goal sent the Americans to the finals for the first time in 40 years.

The Soca Warriors are coached by Bertille St Clair, who has hired former England coach Graham Taylor to monitor the island’s overseas stars. Taylor was instrumental in getting former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke to come out of a three-year international retirement and play against the United States. Taylor was the man who discovered Yorke, who went on to score 47 goals for Manchester in 80 league games from 1988 to 2002.

Along with Yorke, the U.S. team will be aware of Stern John, currently at Coventry City. The former Columbus striker scored 44 goals in 55 MLS games from 1998 to 1999.

Wednesday’s game will be shown live on ESPN2 at 3:30 p.m.

Another Arena for United — The MetroStars traded midfielder Kenny Arena, the son of U.S. national team coach Bruce Arena, to D.C. United for future considerations yesterday. In his two years with the MetroStars, the Fairfax native and former Virginia star played in 20 regular-season games, starting 13 and scoring one goal.

His father, of course, coached United from 1996 to 1998.

Draft picks — D.C. United picked Drake forward Matthew Nickell, 21, in the first round of the MLS supplemental draft yesterday. The Waukee, Iowa, native played for the semipro Des Moines Menace in 2002.

United picked former Stanford goalkeeper Andrew Terris in the third round and American midfielder Shawn Kuykendall with a fourth-round pick.

Elsewhere, Maryland striker Abe Thompson went to FC Dallas, while Terps keeper Noah Palmer went to expansion Real Salt Lake.

Nelsen doing well — Despite a 1-0 loss, former D.C. United captain Ryan Nelsen was in fine form for Blackburn Rovers against visiting English Premier League leader Chelsea on Wednesday.

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