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U.S. readies for World Cup qualifier despite backdrop



Published: Wed, February 9, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



United States must play Trinidad and Tobago in Carnival atmosphere.

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) -- The calypso was playing at a mind-numbing level when the U.S. soccer team walked into its hotel just after midnight. Carnival was in full swing, and this island nation looked toward today's World Cup qualifier as the after-party.

Sweating from the 90-degree heat and humidity, people in glittery costumes and headdresses walked to the Queen's Park Savannah for Tuesday's Carnival celebration.

At the Queen's Park Oval, the site of the game, U.S. coach Bruce Arena had to shout instructions to players over booming music during practice.

"A little samba?" forward Brian McBride said.

Trinidad and Tobago, an island nation 7 1/2 miles off the coast of Venezuela, has never been to the World Cup and remembers the November 1989 game against the United States, when it needed just a tie to qualify for Italia '90. But Paul Caligiuri's first-half goal gave the Americans a 1-0 win, clinching their first World Cup appearance since 1950.

Now the United States, ranked 11th in the world, is trying to advance to its fifth consecutive World Cup and is back in Port-of-Spain for the start of the 10-game final round of qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Trinidad and Tobago, ranked 61st, is still trying to get to the World Cup.

A different world

There was a 24-hour-a-day party leading up to Ash Wednesday, billed as the second-largest Carnival celebration behind Brazil. U.S. forward Clint Mathis, however, didn't find the scene too unusual.

"This is just typical any time we come to a Caribbean country, playing music," he said.

Players were given police escort from the airport to the hotel, then back and forth to practice. Security was muted compared to 15 years ago, when soldiers with submachine guns patrolled the hotel lobby and corridors.

"It's been nice. I thought it was going to be a little more hectic," Arena said.

Dwight Yorke, who played in the 1989 game at National Stadium, is back on the T & amp;T roster for the first time in nearly four years. This game is being played at a 25,000-seat cricket ground -- "Standing the Test since 1896" read the sign on one wall -- not the soccer stadium.

Up on the scoreboard are markings for "Batsmen," "Fielders" and "Innings." The five stands that circle the vast playing surface are far back from the players.

Wide field

"It's different," Arena said. "Big field. It's about 80 yards wide, 120 yards long. I don't think it favors them any. It's hard. It's like playing in a parking lot. I think any kind of home-field advantage they have in terms of the crowd they take away by playing in a facility like this."

With the wide field, a lot of the burden will be on midfielders Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, who will have a lot of ground to cover.

Both teams are likely to have difficulty staying compact.

"I think they wanted it this way, because they have a lot of guys that can run," Beasley said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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