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Arena selects roster for qualifier in Costa Rica.

New U.S. lineup produces lackluster 0-0 draw with Guatemala.

With dominant effort, U.S. dumps Mexico and qualifies for World Cup.

Wasted chances don't stop U.S. from defeating T&T, nearing World Cup berth.

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U.S. men

Players need to impress Arena in Costa Rica qualifier.

By Robert Wagman

(Thursday, October 6, 2005) -- There is a stark difference in the fortunes of the participants in Saturday's World Cup qualifier between the United States and Costa Rica.

The 9 p.m. (ET) match in San Jose, Costa Rica will be broadcast on a one-hour delayed basis by ESPN2.

The U.S. (6-1-1, 19 points) has secured its berth in the 2006 World Cup in Germany and manager Bruce Arena is using this game and Wednesday's final qualifier against Panama at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., to evaluate second-line players who might be of help in next year's Cup.

Meanwhile, Costa Rica, which closes qualifying Wednesday at Guatemala, needs a victory to claim the third and final guaranteed Cup invitation from CONCACAF, the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The Ticos, (4-3-1, 13) are third and could need two points to clinch advancement to the Cup, depending on the results of Guatemala (2-4-2, 8) and Trinidad & Tobago (2-5-1, 7) in the two remaining qualifiers.

Mexico (6-1-1, 19) has also clinched a Cup spot. The fourth-place CONCACAF finisher will face the winner of a playoff between Uzbekistan and Bahrain for another Cup berth.

Where a country finishes in CONCACAF qualifying has no direct bearing on the World Cup draw, though the U.S. and Mexico are in competition for one of eight seeds in the 32-nation field. Being a seeded team is important because it means an entrant will not face any of the other seeded nations in group play.

The U.S., which became the first CONCACAF team to qualify when it defeated Mexico 2-0 September 3 in Columbus, Ohio, easily defeated Costa Rica 3-0 June 4 in Salt Lake City in the first meeting between the nations in the final round of qualifying.

Arena's 18-player roster for Saturday includes seven European-based players.

From the European contingent, Manchester United goalkeeper Tim Howard represents one of the biggest question marks facing Arena as he picks his squad for Germany. Howard has not yet played a match at Man. U. this season as the backup to Edwin van der Sar. Arena must judge whether only training is eroding Howard's skills and sharpness.

Howard will making his first appearance for the U.S. in 2005 and has appeared only once in a qualifier, earning his fifth national-team shutout in a 2-0 semifinal-round victory over El Salvador September 4, 2004, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Others U.S. regulars from Europe include midfielders DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, the Netherlands) and Eddie Lewis (Leeds United, England), and defenders Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England) and Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege, Belgium), as well as Bobby Convey (Reading, England), and young defender Jonathan Spector (Charlton Athletic, England).

Also returning veteran central defender Eddie Pope who has missed the last three qualifiers with injuries. A major question is how well Pope and Onyewu will play together in the middle.

Two Major League Soccer-based players who might have been expected to play have been ruled out with ailments. Los Angeles Galaxy forward Landon Donovan (ankle) and FC Dallas striker Eddie Johnson (foot) have not been called into the side.

This game and Wednesday's meeting with Panama could be critically important to several MLS players trying to make a case for making the World Cup team The New England Revolution's Taylor Twellman, MLS's leading scorer, must show he can raise his game to an international level. Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni of the Colorado Rapids must stake a claim to the defensive midfielder's role. San Jose Earthquakes striker Brian Ching and D.C. United forward Santino Quaranta must show they are ready.

Spector is the European-based player most needing to make an impression.

"Obviously our main goal has been accomplished, which was qualifying for the 2006 World Cup," said Arena. "However, the last two games in this round are extremely important, not only from a competitive aspect, but also in evaluating players as we look towards the vital preparations for the 2006 World Cup."

An interesting factor surrounding the match against Costa Rica is the newly installed artificial turf at Estadio Saprissa. This will be the first time the Americans have played an official match on artificial turf. In preparation, the U.S. has been training on an artificial surface in South Florida while, surprisingly, the Ticos are working out on a grass field to lessen the stress on the players' joints caused by the artificial field.

The stadium is the home of Deportivo Saprissa of the Costa Rican first division and the FieldTurf surface was approved by world governing body FIFA for international play July 5, 2004. It is essentially the same field found at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. and Qwest Field in Seattle.

Costa Rica's Brazilian-born coach Alexandre Guimaraes will have his best squad available Saturday. The Ticos attack will be led by strikers Paulo Wanchope, based in Qatar, and Alvaro Saborio.

Guimares is not taking lightly a home match against a U.S. squad missing many of its regulars. "The match could be more difficult than if it were against the regulars, because they know that they are playing for a place in the World Cup team," he said. "They're very strong in midfield."

Critical matches Saturday involve Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago, who are probably battling for fourth place and the playoff against Uzbekistan or Bahrain. Guatemala would take the final automatic Cup berth and Trinidad might with victories in their last two outings paired with two Costa Rica losses.

Guatemala's trip to Mexico might not be as difficult as usual. The match will take place in San Luis, not Mexico City's feared Azteca Stadium, and Mexico coach Ricardo La Volpe has not called in seven regulars, including striker Jared Borgetti, defender and captain Pavel Pardo, Barcelona defender Rafa Marquez and Brazilian-born midfielder Antonio Naelson. And in a move that is causing significant debate, La Volpe called in Argentine-born striker Guillermo Franco, who will earn his first cap.

Trinidad, meanwhile, appears to have an easier time, visiting Panama (0-6-2) to face a team which has accumulated only two points.


United States (team affiliations in parentheses)

Goalkeepers (2): Kevin Hartman (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS), Tim Howard (Manchester United, England).

Defenders (8): Chris Albright (Los Angeles, MLS), Wade Barrett (San Jose Earthquakes, MLS), Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham, England), Dan Califf (San Jose, MLS), Eddie Lewis (Leeds United, England), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard de Liege, Belguim), Eddie Pope (Real Salt Lake, MLS), Jonathan Spector (Charlton Athletic, England).

Midfielders (5): DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven, Netherlands), Ricardo Clark (San Jose, MLS), Bobby Convey (Reading, England), Kyle Martino (Columbus Crew, MLS), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids, MLS).

Forwards (3): Brian Ching (San Jose, MSL), Santino Quaranta, (D.C. United, MLS), Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution, MLS).

Costa Rica

Goalkeepers (3): Wardy Alfaro, Alavaro Mesen, Jose Porras.

Defenders (9): Gabriel Badilla, Jervis Drummond, Leonardo Gonzalez, Luis Marin, Gilberto Martinez, Roy Myrie, Michael Umana, Mario Viquez, Harold Wallace.

Midfielders (9): Randall Corrales, Walter Centeno, Danny Fonseca, Ronald Gomez, Carlos Hernandez, Douglas Sequeira, Alonso Solis, Mauricio Solis, Jafet Soto.

Forwards (4): Minor Diaz, Winston Parks, Alvaro Saborio, Paulo Wanchope.

Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent. E-mail Robert Wagman.

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