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Guiterrez cleared to join national team, is called in for Costa Rica qualifier.

By Robert Wagman

(Saturday, October 7, 2000) -- Chicago Fire midfielder\defender Diego Gutierrez, who became an American citizen last summer, has been cleared to play for the United States national team by world governing body FIFA.

The decision by FIFA surprised some U.S. Soccer Federation officials who privately said they expected denial of the request to make Gutierrez eligible for the U.S. team.

Resultantly, he has been called into camp prior to Wednesday's U.S.-Costa Rica match in Columbus, Ohio, and is expected to be part of the 18-player roster.

Gutierrez was born in Bogota, Colombia, but his family moved to Miami, Fla., when he was 17. A year later, Gutierrez's family moved to Kansas City. After attending Blue Springs High School in the Kansas City area, he played soccer first at the University of Evansville, and then Rockhurst University.

Gutierrez was a star player for Colombia's under-17 national team before his family emigrated to Miami. Later, he made at least one appearance for Colombia's under-20 national team.

His eligibility came into question because in 1989 he played for Colombia in the South American Youth Championships, which were used to qualify teams for the 1990 FIFA World Youth Championships in Scotland. He did not play, however, in the world championship.

Under FIFA rules, a player appearing for his country, at any level beginning at under-17, in an "official" match, is no longer eligible to play for any other nation. An "official" match is generally a world championship and, in some instances, FIFA-sanctioned confederation competitions.

What had been unclear was how to treat qualifying matches leading up to world championships.

FIFA’s ruling, which has not yet been made public, but has been confirmed by a U.S. Soccer official, apparently interprets Guiterrez’s appearance in the 1989 South American youth tournament as not being in an official competition.

It had been generally assumed that Gutierrez’s appearance in the qualifying event would render him ineligible to play for the American team, but U.S. Soccer pushed the case forward anyway.

Guiterrez started his pro career with the Kansas City Wizards in Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. He emerged as the starting left back by the end of his rookie season, but, during the 1997 preseason, he severely injured a knee and missed the entire season.

He was still on injured list when the expansion draft occurred between the 1997 and 1998 seasons. Former Kansas City coach Ron Newman says that Gutierrez was left unprotected in the draft only because of confusion over his injured reserve status. The player was grabbed by the Fire, even though it was known he might miss the entire 1998 season.

Chicago coach Bob Bradley's gamble has paid off. Gutierrez played 13 games in 1998, when the Fire captured the MLS championship, and has been a starter since.

U.S. coach Bruce Arena has not commented on his plans for the important qualifier against Costa Rica Wednesday or how he might utilize the versatile Gutierrez.

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

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