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Americans to take on Ecuador in early June, probably in Columbus.

By Robert Wagman

(Saturday, April 14, 2001) -- The United States men will likely play Ecuador in early June, a friendly that will probably played in Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday, June 7 and be televised by ESPN.

"We have reached an agreement with the Ecuadorian Federation and we are awaiting the signed contract," a senior United States Soccer Federation official said. "I would say we are 99-plus percent sure the match will happen and Iím happy we are going back to Columbus given the tremendous job they did putting on the (World Cup qualifier) against Mexico."

Both the U.S. and Ecuador intend to use the match to prepare for upcoming qualifiers. The U.S. plays in Jamaica June 16 and, four days later, hosts Trinidad & Tobago at Foxboro Stadium near Boston. Ecuador travels to Peru on July 1.

Early in the year, U.S. menís coach Bruce Arenaís big problem was his Major League Soccer players werenít fit because of months of inaction. With European seasons ending in mid-May, his challenge now is to keep his overseas players match ready. So a training camp and a match leading up to two important qualifiers makes sense.

Coming off a 1-0 upset of Brazil March 28, Ecuador has been the surprise of South American qualifying, standing fourth with a 6-4-1 record. With nine matches remaining, Ecuador is one point behind Brazil and one point ahead of Colombia. The top four finishers qualify for the 2002 World Cup with nation in fifth place playing off against the Oceania champion for another berth in South Korea and Japan.

Ecuador is led by striker Agustin Delado, the goal scorer against Brazil, midfielders Edison Mendez, and Alex Aguinaga, and defender Ivan Hurtado.

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

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