A remarkable thing has happened in the seven years since the U.S. national soccer team last played a game in a World Cup qualifying tournament.
"When we were going into 1990, we did not have one single legitimate pro," forward Eric Wynalda said. "We were a bunch of college kids . . . the complete underdog."
"The fans pick up the paper and see who we're playing against," Wynalda said. "And if it's not Germany or England or Italy or Argentina or Brazil, we're expected to win. That's good. That's one of the good things about Americans, is that we have an attitude with our sports."
Which means nothing short of victory will be good enough today when the United States plays host to Guatemala at RFK Stadium, the first of 16 qualifying games for the U.S. team on the long road to the 1998 World Cup in France.
And a victory is almost what the Americans will need, today and Nov. 10 at Richmond, Va., when they are host to Trinidad and Tobago. Two games on the road come next, and winning on foreign soil can be extremely tough against small nations who see soccer as their one sporting chance to beat the United States.
"It's very important to get off to a good start, especially with home games," Wynalda said.