- The Washington Times - Friday, September 2, 2005

Win and get in. That’s the clarion call to America’s finest soccer players, who will meet Mexico today at Columbus (Ohio) Crew Stadium. With a victory, the Americans will book a berth for next year’s World Cup in Germany.

If today’s game were at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, more than 90,000 would pack the bowl, but it would be a pro-Mexican crowd. Seeking homefield advantage, the Americans chose the cozy confines of 22,555-seat Crew Stadium to welcome the talented Mexicans.

“Columbus is as good a venue as we can select,” U.S. team coach Bruce Arena said in a conference call this week. “Is it 100 percent pro-American? Obviously, it won’t be, but I think it’s a very good venue for the U.S. team to play in.”

Mexico is ranked fifth in FIFA world rankings and the United States sixth. While the rankings aren’t worth a pitcher of warm spit — for instance, France, Germany, Italy and England are ranked lower than the United States — it does show how far the U.S. team has come in the last 15 years and what an exciting rivalry the CONCACAF region has produced.

“I think this particular rivalry is terrific for soccer in the United States,” Arena said “And coming off the 2002 World Cup, in which obviously both countries met in an important match [the U.S. downed Mexico 2-0 in the round of 16], that sets the stage for this game.”

The Americans beat Mexico 2-0 at Crew Stadium on Feb. 28, 2001, on the way to qualifying for the 2002 World Cup, and a win tonight will send the U.S. team to its fifth consecutive Cup. Mexico beat the U.S. team 2-1 in qualifying earlier this year in Mexico City, and a win today for the United States would restore some bragging rights.

Several key Americans arrived in camp with added confidence after good performances with club teams in Europe last weekend. Captain Claudio Reyna scored for English Premier League team Manchester City as it extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games. Striker Brian McBride scored the game-winner as EPL club Fulham beat visiting Everton 1-0. In Holland, midfielder DaMarcus Beasley returned from an injury to score for PSV Eindhoven in its 3-0 win over Roda.

If the United States ties Mexico, it still can clinch a World Cup berth if Panama wins or ties at home against Costa Rica and Trinidad & Tobago ties or beats Guatemala at home. The Americans could lose and still qualify if the Trinidad game ends in a tie and Panama wins.

Jared Borgetti, who became the first Mexican to play in the EPL last week when he suited up for Bolton, leads the Tricolor into the game, which will be televised by ESPN Classic at 7:25 p.m.

In other World Cup qualifiers today, Ukraine can earn a berth with a win at Georgia. Israel visits Switzerland, and the winner will move to the top of the tight Group Four, which also includes Ireland and France. Scotland plays host to Italy and must win to have any hope in Group Five. England visits Wales in Group Six, while Poland plays host to Austria. In Asia, Bahrain visits Uzbekistan in the first of the two-game playoff to determine who plays the fourth-place team in the CONCACAF region for a World Cup berth.

United notes — D.C. United (12-8-5, 41 points) visits Colorado (8-11-4, 28 points) today with a chance to earn crucial points in its attempt to catch Eastern Conference leader New England (13-5-6, 45 points). United’s Jaime Moreno, who leads the league with 12 goals, has a chance to match his career high of 16 from 1997 and 1998. … Moreno received his green card this week and no longer counts as a senior international on United’s roster. … United’s Argentine defender, Facundo Erpen, has been nicknamed “La Bicicletta” — the bicycle — by his teammates for his amazing bicycle kicks.

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