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Men's U.S. Cup

Americans can capture crown with win or draw Sunday against Mexico.

By Robert Wagman

(Friday, June 9, 2000) -- The United States needs only a victory or a draw with Mexico on Sunday to capture its third Nike U.S. Cup and first since 1995.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena will not name his starters until after a Saturday night team meeting, but he will select what in his mind is his best 11 for the 1 p.m. (ET) match at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

The two teams are both 1-0-1. Each has beaten South Africa and tied Ireland, but the U.S. defeated South Africa 4-0, while Mexico won 4-2, giving the Americans a better goal differential and the Cup should the teams draw.

The U.S. has never fared well against Mexico with an overall 5-27-9 record, being outscored 108-42. The last U.S. victory was 4-0 at RFK Stadium in Washington to win the 1995 U.S. Cup. The Americans are 0-3-4 against their southern neighbor since.

Sunday’s opponent will not be as strong as in the past and, in fact, is not really the Mexican national team. Rather it will be comprised mostly of players from club team Pumas UNAM. Furthermore, star striker Luis Hernandez, the nation's leading career goal-getter who missed the opener, but played Wednesday in Mexico’s triumph over South Africa, has returned to Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy for the weekend.

It is likely the U.S. starting lineup will be much the same as it was against South Africa last Saturday in Washington, D.C. Kasey Keller will almost certainly start in the nets. David Regis, Jeff Agoos and Carlos Llamosa are expected on he back line, Chris Armas should be in his usual position in the defensive midfield. Claudio Reyna will be in the middle with Earnie Stewart on his right side. The same strikers, Cobi Jones and Brian McBride, should start again.

The two question marks would seem to be who will be the fourth defender and will a banged-up Eddie Lewis start on left wing.

Lewis played on Saturday with a damaged shoulder and was clearly not at his best, while Tony Sanneh played at right back. It is possible, maybe even likely, that Gregg Berhalter will start as the fourth defender after a solid match against Ireland on Tuesday.

That could free up Sanneh to play in place of Lewis, if Lewis cannot make the start. Although Sanneh normally plays on the right side, he can play the left. Ben Olsen would be another possible choice in the left midfield.

Given that Mexico has chosen to send a club team to represent it in this tournament, the U.S. is favored to win on Sunday. All but four of the Mexican players received their first international cap in the tournament opener against Ireland. But it may not be that easy.

Pumas is a talented team that works well together. It is coming off a better-than-decent season with a semifinal appearance in the just completed Mexican League tournament. And for this match, it will be motivated.

Pumas is coached by former Dallas Burn star Hugo Sanchez. His young nephew, striker Horacio Sanchez, scored twice against South Africa in a three-minute period. Forward Jesus Olade and midfielder Luis Perez have played well.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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