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International Soccer Comes to Southland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Football returns to Anaheim Stadium tonight, but not the kind between teams of helmet-headed players. After all, the Rams have gone to St. Louis and they aren’t coming back.

No, this is the football played with your feet, the game the world--and more recently and to a far lesser extent the United States--embraces.

Beginning tonight, soccer returns to Anaheim Stadium for the first time since 1981 as the Southland hosts the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Canada plays Honduras at 7 and Trinidad and Tobago faces El Salvador at 9.

The nine-team, 11-day tournament featuring national teams from North and Central America, the Caribbean and Brazil is not nearly on the scale of the World Cup, but it’s sure to be a hit with soccer aficionados.

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Brazil was added to the field to strengthen the competition, although the Brazilians are sending their under-23 team as a tuneup for its appearance in the Olympics. The Brazilian varsity has beaten the U.S. team twice in the last 18 months--in the second round of the ’94 World Cup and in last year’s Copa America semifinal.

The U.S. roster features many of the same players who played on the ’94 World Cup team, including forwards Ernie Stewart and Eric Wynalda, midfielders John Harkes and Cobi Jones and defenders Marcelo Balboa and Alexi Lalas. Joe-Max Moore of Irvine also is on the team.

Mexico, coached by former U.S. World Cup Coach Bora Milutinovic, joins Brazil and the United States as the tournament favorites.

Certainly, Brazil, the United States and Mexico figure to be the biggest, most exciting draws during the tournament, which ends with the championship and third-place games at the Coliseum Jan. 21.

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Officials at Anaheim Stadium, where the U.S. team plays Trinidad and Tobago Saturday at 4 p.m. and El Salvador Jan. 16 at 8 p.m., are hoping for crowds of about 30,000.

“We’ve got five games over three days and we’re looking at an excess of 100,000 fans combined,” said Greg Smith, general manager of Anaheim Stadium. “We’re really pleased with how things are going so far, and the interest that’s out there.”

Brazil plays once at the Coliseum and once at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium. Also at San Diego, Mexico plays St. Vincent and the Grenadines at 8 p.m. Thursday and against Guatemala at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Anaheim Stadium hasn’t hosted an athletic event since the Angels defeated the Oakland Athletics on the final day of the regular season Oct. 1, but it didn’t take long to get the 70,000-seat stadium ready for tonight’s doubleheader.

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There is a new $70,000 field in place and soccer goals have been borrowed from the Anaheim Parks and Recreation Department. Filming for the movie “The Fan” destroyed the old grass and the movie company paid for a new field.

“Those were the only physical things we had to acquire,” Smith said. “This is a different kind of football, but we’ve got it.”

It’s believed to be the first soccer game at Anaheim Stadium since the Surf of the North American Soccer League played their last game in 1981. The Salsa played at Cal State Fullerton as did the U.S. team during it’s pre-World Cup ’94 schedule. International “friendlies” have been played at Fullerton or Santa Ana Stadium and the Splash plays indoors at The Pond.

Tickets to games at Anaheim Stadium range from $15 to $25 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or at the stadium box office (on game days only).

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Gold Cup Soccer

Here is a look at the Gold Cup soccer tournament schedule, with games at Anaheim Stadium, the Coliseum and San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.

AT ANAHEIM STADIUM

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*Tonight

Canada vs. Honduras, 7 p.m.

Trinidad and Tobago vs. El Salvador, 9 p.m.

* Saturday

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Trinidad and Tobago vs. United States, 4 p.m.

* Jan. 16

St. Vincent and the Grenadines vs. Guatemala, 6 p.m.

El Salvador vs. United States, 8 p.m.

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AT THE COLISEUM

* Friday

Brazil vs. Canada, 5 p.m.

* Sunday

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Brazil vs. Honduras, 4 p.m.

* Jan. 18

Semifinal match, 6 p.m.

* Jan. 21

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Third-place game, 2 p.m.

Championship game, 4 p.m.

AT JACK MURPHY STADIUM

* Thursday

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Mexico vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 8 p.m.

* Sunday

Mexico vs. Guatemala, 2 p.m.

* Jan. 19

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One semifinal, 8 p.m.

TICKET INFORMATION

* At Anaheim Stadium: General admission $15, reserved $25

* At Jack Murphy Stadium: General admission $15, reserved $25; prices for Jan. 19 semifinal are $18 and $30

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* At the Coliseum: General admission $15-$18, reserved $25-$35, VIP $40-$50

* All sites: Available through Ticketmaster and stadium box offices. Call (714) 740-2000

* For more information: (310) 767-4994


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