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John Haydon: Pride and Cup positioning at stake as USA takes on El Salvador. Several American regulars may rest.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (Saturday, November 15, 1997) -- The United States can relax a bit when it takes on El Salvador tomorrow in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match at Foxboro Stadium.

With the U.S. having qualified for France 98 last Sunday with its 3-0 whitewash of Canada, head coach Steve Sampson is expected to sit several regulars.

"The U.S. team you'll see on Sunday will be vastly different than the team you saw in Mexico and Canada," Sampson said. "However, we'll be competitive and will play for (a positive) result."

Sampson wants to protect a number of his starters because more than 12 players in the current U.S. roster pool have one yellow card going into tomorrow's game. FIFA, the world governing body, will decide early next month whether yellow cards collected in qualifying will be wiped out for the 1998 World Cup or players who receive a second yellow card in the final qualifier must sit the first match of the Cup. Sampson doesn't want to take any risks.

Sampson hinted this week that he may start third-string goalkeeper Juergen Sommer and give midfielders Chris Henderson and Brian Maisonneuve, and striker Brian McBride some playing time Sunday.

In taking the long-view, the probably wiser approach would be to rest some starters. Sampson, however is also taking a risk. Tomorrow's game will be televised live nationally before a crowd exceeding 51,000 in Foxboro. A poor display by the Americans might not please Sampson's bosses at the United States Soccer Federation who will review his job status in January.

"I hope the Federation will understand what I'm doing," explained Sampson.

While the Americans will be pride and possibly a better seeding in France, El Salvador will be making a last-gasp attempt to reach the World Cup. The Central American side has to beat the U.S. and hope that Jamaica loses at home to Mexico in order to qualify. Otherwise, Jamaica qualifies.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and may be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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