This week's four-nation Los Angeles Soccer Cup is being called El Torneo de la Verdad --The Tournament of Truth.
The reason is that it has Mexico, which has been barred from trying to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy, against Costa Rica, El Salvador and Guatemala, each of whom has a good chance of qualifying.
According to Mexican national sentiment, Mexico's team is better than any of the other three, just as it is better than the other two countries left in the regional qualifying chase: the United States and Trinidad and Tobago.
Tonight, Mexico has the opportunity of partially proving that contention. It plays Guatemala at 9 p.m. at the Coliseum in the nightcap of an international soccer doubleheader that also has Costa Rica and El Salvador meeting at 7:30 p.m.
Tonight's winners will meet at 9 p.m. Thursday in the championship match, with the losers playing for third place at 7:30 p.m.
Perhaps Mexico is correct. Perhaps it is the strongest soccer power in the Central and North American and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region. But because it chose to disregard the rules and fielded overage players during qualifying for the World Youth Championship currently under way in Saudi Arabia, it is paying the price.
Tossed out of the Seoul Olympics (and replaced, incidentally, by Guatemala, which should provide an added edge to tonight's match), Mexico also has been barred from any world championships for two years. It next will resurface during qualifying for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
By then, a new regional power might have emerged, if the United States' recent run of success means anything.
On Monday, the United States scored a surprising, 2-0 win over East Germany in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, during first-round play in the fifth World Youth Championship. The victory, combined with a 1-1 tie against Mali last Friday, vastly improves the Americans' chances of reaching the next round.
A stronger-than-expected showing in South Korea during the Olympics last summer, an astonishing third-place finish in the first World Indoor Championship in the Netherlands in January and a strong chance of qualifying for next year's World Cup, jointly indicate that U.S. soccer fortunes are definitely on the upswing.
Just how difficult the road to Italy will be might be shown in this week's matches at the Coliseum. It was Costa Rica, for example, that ended U.S. hopes of qualifying for the 1986 World Cup with a 1-0 victory in Los Angeles four years ago. The United States, which elected not to take part in the Los Angeles Cup, meets Costa Rica April 21 in San Jose, Costa Rica in its first match of the final qualifying round.
Guatemala will not be a pushover, either, and already has eliminated 1986 finalist Canada. El Salvador reached the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and Trinidad and Tobago is an unknown factor. Two of the five countries will advance to Italy.
The United States' win over East Germany Monday came on the strength of goals by Troy Dayak of Livermore, Calif., in the 47th minute and a penalty kick by Steve Snow of Schaumburg, Ill., in the 89th minute. Goalkeeper Kasey Keller of Lacey, Wash., was in excellent form in the nets. The victory gives the United States. three points from two games, with a match against unbeaten Brazil on Wednesday. Mali, in contention with the United States for second place in Group C, plays East Germany the same day.
Arturo Angeles of Arcadia, a civil engineer for the city of Los Angeles, is the lone American among 24 referees officiating the tournament in Saudi Arabia. Another local referee, Majid Jay of Los Alamitos, has been named by the United States Soccer Federation as one of seven FIFA referees for 1989. All seven are eligible to referee matches at the international level.