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U.S. is probably lucky to be playing Colombia in quarterfinals; and where are the American fans?

By Robert Wagman

MIAMI (Friday, February 18, 2000) -- As the United States prepares for tomorrow's Gold Cup quarterfinal showdown with Colombia, let me share a few thoughts I have gathered through the first week of this competition.

The U.S. had hoped to avoid meeting Colombia until the semifinals, should it advance, Wednesday in San Diego. The theory was that Colombia would draw a large and loyal crowd to the Orange Bowl, but would have fewer followers in San Diego.

By the way things have worked out, the U.S. is probably fortunate. Colombia is not playing particularly well. At one level that worries the U.S. coaches, because they know that Colombia can play a lot better. They are hoping the Colombians don't suddenly find their game.

But in retrospect, it would have been a much more difficult proposition playing Honduras. The Honduran team has energized the large and very vocal Honduran community in the Miami area, and as many as 30,000 would have turned out for a match against the U.S.

No matter how it finishes, Honduras has been the revelation of the tournament. It is clearly the most improved team in the hemisphere.

Basically, Honduras has four international-level players -- Carlos Pavon, Milton Nunez, Oscar Suazo and Christian Santamaria. All four are offensive players, and together they form a quick and often lethal attack. The Honduran defense at times has its problems and the goalkeeping is only adequate. But with the offense always pushing forward, the defense is not pressured, or at least hasn't been yet down here. The supporting cast to the four offensive threats is good enough to get them by a lot of opponents.

Interestingly, Nunez, a tiny striker in almost perpetual motion, could have been and should have playing in Major League Soccer for the New England Revolution, instead of Greece, where he is an emerging first division star. Nunez, called "Tyson," was offered to MLS and was wanted by New England, but the league passed on him, reportedly thinking he wanted too much money at too young an age.

If he were playing in New England, the Revolution would not have had many of the offensive problems it consistently has had.

The play of Honduras here in Miami, and the play of both Guatemala (with its terrific goalkeeper Edgar Estrada) and Trinidad & Tobago in California shows clearly how difficult World Cup qualifying is going to be for the United States. In the upcoming hemisphere qualifying that gets underway in October, the U.S. will have few gimme matches, especially away. The road to SouthKorea\Japan is going to be much more difficult than the road to France was in 1998.

When the U.S. walked out onto the field at the Orange Bowl to start its warmups before the opening Gold Cup match against Haiti last Saturday, the Americans were met with a deafening chorus of boos and whistles from the crowd of 50,000. My twin reactions were "Isn't this a shame?" and "Something has to be done about this."

I would estimate that of the 50,000 in the Orange Bowl (in Miami, which is in Florida, which is in the U.S. the last time I looked), probably fewer than 3,000 were there to cheer for the "home" team. I have absolutely nothing against the Haitian and Honduran and Colombian communities in South Florida turning out to support their heroes. I just wish that Americans would start doing it in some numbers.

Obviously we could spend hours talking about whose fault this is. But a couple things are clear. The U.S. Soccer Federation did almost nothing to promote this tournament or the U.S. team. CONCACAF, the host federation of North America, Central America and the Caribbean, did some promotion, but almost exclusively through the Hispanic media, aimed at selling tickets to come and watch the other hemisphere competitors.

So U.S. Soccer is at fault. But so too are the fans themselves. There has to be enough American soccer fans living in South Florida to have made a representative showing in the Orange Bowl. Somehow we have to begin energizing this fan base and get them to support this team or else the U.S. will continue to play away matches in stadiums all across America.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at

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