Monday, March 07, 2005

Soccer Marches Forth

March is a big month for soccer for the US and MLS.

The US Men's National team plays four matches this month: two warmups in the next two weeks before Matches 2 and 3 of World Cup Qualifying. An MLS-only US Squad takes on Colombia on Wednesday in Fullerton, CA, then heads to Alberquerque, NM for a match against Honduras on the 19th. Why New Mexico? To prepare the Nats for the the altitude of the big World Cup Quallie on Easter Sunday (the 26th) against Mexico at the Azteca in Mexico City, where the US has never won. The following Wednesday the Nats take on Guatemala in the first home game of the Quallie finals in Birmingham, AL. The US currently is tied for the top spot along with the tricolores.

Last season's MLS Cup finalists kick off the 2005 CONCACAF Champions Cup, the region's version of the Euro Champions League, this week. MLS Cup champ DC United hosts Jamaican champion Harbour View FC in the first match of a home-and-home quarterfinal seriesm, Wednesday at 7:30 on Fox Soccer Channel. MLS runner-up and US Open Cup winner Kansas City Wizards host Costa Rican champion Saprissa at 9:30pm, also on FSC. Return matches follow on the 16th. Other participating clubs include Mexico's UNAM Pumas and Monterrey, Honduran champ Olimpia, and Guatemala's Municipal. MLS teams have won two CCC titles: DC United in 1998 and LA Galaxy in 2000.

Last week, the 2005 CONCACAF Gold Cup draw placed the US into Group B with Cuba, Costa Rica and Canada for July's biennial continental championship. The tourney will be held at seven sites across the US, and to get to the final, the Nats will play at Seattle, Foxboro, and Giants Stadium. The US will be gunning for its third Gold Cup, following up titles in 1991 and 2002. Other participating countries include Group A's Honduras, Panama, Trinidad and Colombia, and Group C's South Africa, Guatemala, Mexico and Jamaica.

On Sunday, the US U-20 squad was drawn into a very, very difficult group for this June's World Youth Championship in Holland. The "Gnats" will face defending champion Argentina, Germany and Egypt. In 2003 tournament in the UAE, the US lost to Argentina in the quarterfinals.

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