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SOCCER / GRAHAME L. JONES : Young Americans May See Rough Road in Argentina

The United States stunned almost everyone in 1991 when it won the gold medal at the Pan American Games in Cuba, defeating Mexico in the final.

Four years later, similar success seems very unlikely.

This time, the Games will take place in Mar del Plata, Argentina, from March 10-25, and Coach Timo Liekoski’s U.S. team has the unenviable task of playing the host country in its opening match.

The Americans play Argentina on March 12, Paraguay on March 14 and Honduras on March 16.

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Liekoski says his team will be “well prepared,” but he has chosen not to use the three so-called “wild-card” players available under the rules. Instead of being strengthened with a trio of older players with more international experience, all the players on the American team will be younger than 23.

The 18-member roster includes two Californians--UNLV defender Mike DuHaney of San Diego and Fresno State midfielder Brian Johnson of Livermore.

It also includes one professional player, defender Greg Berhalter, who plays for FC Zwolle in the Dutch second division; one prep player, midfielder Jason Moore of Parkview High in Atlanta; and four players from Virginia’s NCAA championship team: forward A. J. Wood, midfielder Damian Silvera and defenders Brandon Pollard and Clint Peay.

UCLA Coach Sigi Schmid is the team’s assistant coach.

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The defending world champion U.S. women’s team should have no great difficulty advancing to at least the quarterfinals when it tries to defend its title this summer in Sweden.

At the draw held in Helsingborg, Sweden, where the opening game of the June 5-18 tournament will be played, the Americans were joined in Group C by China, Denmark and Australia.

The Chinese will present a challenge in the Americans’ first game in Gavle on June 6, but the Danes are unlikely to cause any problems on June 8, also in Gavle, while the Australians will be decided underdogs on June 10 in Helsingborg.

The Swedes got the worst of the draw, finding themselves placed alongside Brazil, Germany and Japan in Group A. Norway, which lost to the United States in the championship game in China in 1991, has the easiest first round, having been drawn to play England, Canada and either South Africa or Nigeria in Group B.

South Africa and Nigeria play March 19, with the winner going to Sweden.

The top two teams in each group, along with the two third-place teams with the best record advance to the quarterfinals.

The five favorites to win the championship are Norway, Sweden, the United States, China and Germany.

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Reaching the final eight will be reward enough for some, however, since that will guarantee a place in the first women’s Olympic soccer tournament in Atlanta next year.

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By an odd coincidence, the U.S. women had scheduled games against two of their first-round opponents before the draw was held. In January, the Americans beat Australia twice in scrimmages, 4-1 and 5-0, in Phoenix.

Then, last Friday in Winter Park, Fla., where the U.S. squad this month opened its permanent training camp, the Americans trounced Denmark, 7-0, with Michelle Akers, the top goal scorer in the first Women’s World Championship in China in 1991, showing she is almost completely recovered from a bout with the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes extreme fatigue. Akers scored three goals and assisted on another.

Mia Hamm scored two and also got two assists.

It was a doubly bad week for the Danes, whose captain and leading scorer, defender Bonny Madsen, broke her leg and missed the match.

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Win or lose in Sweden, the United States is virtually certain to be taking part in the next championship.

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The U.S. Soccer Federation would not have launched a bid to stage the third FIFA Women’s World Championship in 1999 had it not received some fairly strong assurances from FIFA that it would be awarded the tournament.

The only other countries to have expressed interest so far are Australia and Chile.

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The American Youth Soccer Organization, founded by Hans Stierle in 1964, this month celebrated the 30th anniversary of its first game.

Since that inaugural match in Torrance on Feb. 13, 1965, AYSO has grown to the point where it now has 500,000 registered players in 45 states.

Not quite “Everyone Plays” yet, but AYSO clearly is working on living up to its motto.


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