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U.S. faces tough opponents in Hexagonal
November 29th, 2000 12AM

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The final path on the road to the South Korea-Japan 2002 World Cup wonÆt be easy for the USA. The field will be far tougher this time than it was four years ago. Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras should be much stronger opponents than Canada and El Salvador were four years ago. The fifth U.S. opponent in the Hexagonal, from which three teams qualify for the World Cup finals, will be the winner of the Jan. 6 playoff between Guatemala and Costa Rica.

Honduras

QUALIFYING. HondurasÆ second place behind Panama in the preliminary round in Central America was a blessing in disguise. It moved the Hondurans into Group D, which they easily won, and kept them out of Group C, where they would have had to face Mexico and Trinidad & Tobago.

COACH. A key to the Honduran turnaround has been Coach Ramon Maradiaga, the playmaker on the Honduran team that reached the 1982 World Cup finals. He took over as national team coach in December 1998, making him longest-serving national team coach among the U.S. opponents.

OLD FACES. Honduras averaged more than four goals a game in Group D, even though striker Milton ôTysonö Nunez moved to English club Sunderland and missed four of the six games. Carlos Pavon led the Football Confederation with seven goals in the semifinals.

NEW FACES. The future of the Bicolores is with the Olympians Maradiaga groomed with the U-20s and then U-23s. Eight started in World Cup qualifying. MaradiagaÆs big problem is that most have since moved abroad.

U.S. CONNECTION. Arnold Cruz, who spent the æ97 MLS season with D.C. United and San Jose, played two games on defense.

MATCHUP. The United States and Honduras havenÆt met in World Cup qualifying since 1965. The biggest meeting between the two teams came in the 1991 Gold Cup final, which the United States won on penalty kicks.

Jamaica

QUALIFYING. The Reggae Boyz had a surprisingly easy time, considering the turmoil surrounding the team after Rene Simoes quit as head coach in February. They won their first four games to wrap up a berth in the Hexagonal.

COACH. Clovis De Oliveira is JamaicaÆs third coach this year, succeeding Simoes, who quit after almost six years in charge, and Sebastiao Lazaroni, who lasted two months. De Oliveira laid down the law quickly, suspending five British-based players for violating curfew on the eve of a friendly against Barbados in August.

OLD FACES. Only two British-bred Boyz are still in the picture: Derby CountyÆs Deon Burton and Daryl Powell. Other regulars from the æ98 World Cup team are defenders Ricardo Gardener, Ian Goodison and Linval Dixon and midfielder Theodore Whitmore.

NEW FACES. Tyrone Marshall, who played college soccer at Lindsey Wilson and FIU and is in his third year with MLSÆs Miami Fusion, and teenager Shavar Thomas, who attended boarding school in Connecticut, are key members of the BoyzÆs defense.

U.S. CONNECTION. Andrew Williams (Fusion) and Onandi Lowe (Rochester Rhinos) play big roles in the Jamaican attack. Walter Boyd, the former APSL star with the Colorado Foxes, is back in good graces.

MATCHUP. The United States and Jamaica tied both games (0-0 and 1-1) in World Cup æ98 qualifying. The Americans may need more than two points this time.

Mexico

QUALIFYING. Mexico needed only four games to clinch a berth in the Hexagonal, but it hardly lived up to the Mexican pressÆs high standards. Besides the 7-1 win over Panama and 7-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago in Mexico City, the Tricolores struggled.

COACH. Manuel Lapuente had enough with the high-pressure head coaching job, quitting after the win over Panama. Enrique Meza, who built Toluca into MexicoÆs best team, was the logical pick to succeed Lapuente.

OLD FACES. Defender Claudio Suarez now has 148 caps, just two shy of Lothar MatthaeusÆ record. Also in the century club are goalie Jorge Campos and left-sided defender Ramon Ramirez.

NEW FACES. Jorge Borgetti (Santos) led the Mexican league in scoring (17 goals in 17 games) in the Torneo Invierno. He had a hat trick against T&T in his World Cup qualifying debut. The lanky Borgetti could play a key role in the Hexagonal, particularly against teams with big backlines. His emergence took on even greater significance when Cuauhtemoc Blanco was seriously injured against T&T.

U.S. CONNECTION. The Los Angeles GalaxyÆs Luis Hernandez, currently on loan to Club America, went scoreless in four Group D appearances.

MATCHUP. The United States has won the last two meetings (3-0 and 2-0) against under-strength Mexican teams. It has not beaten Mexico after 90 minutes in official competition since 1991.

Trinidad & Tobago

QUALIFYING. The Soca Warriors opened with two huge wins ù 2-0 over Canada in Edmonton and 1-0 over Mexico in Port of Spain ù and breezed through qualifying. The only downer was a 7-0 loss to Mexico after they had already wrapped up a berth in the Hexagonal.

COACH. Scotsman Ian Butterfield took over for popular Bertille St. Clair after T&T fell to Canada in the Gold Cup semifinals. The Soca Warriors have only lost one of 11 qualifiers under Butterfield.

OLD FACES. The two key figures are playmaker and captain Russell Latapy (Hibernian) and Dwight Yorke (Manchester United). This is their fourth and probably last time in World Cup qualifying.

NEW FACES. At 6-foot-7, David Lawrence is an imposing force in the middle of the T&T defense. He recently joined Trinidadians Hector Sam and Carlos Edwards at Welsh club Wrexham in the English Second Division.

U.S. CONNECTION. Ansil Elcock of the Columbus Crew was been a fixture in the T&T lineup until he was thrown out of T&TÆs match with Mexico in Mexico City for a nasty foul on Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Former MLS scoring champ Stern John is still working his way back to fitness. He only played in one Group D match.

MATCHUP. The United States won both meetings with Trinidad & Tobago in qualifying for the æ98 World Cup. The Soca Warriors will be a much more formidable opponent this time.

Hexagonal Schedule

Feb. 27-28, 2001

Jamaica vs. Trin. & Tobago

USA vs. Mexico

Guat. or C.R. vs. Honduras

March 24-28, 2001

Honduras vs. USA

Mexico vs. Jamaica

Guat. or C.R. vs. Trin. & Tobago

April 24-25, 2001

Jamaica vs. Honduras

Trin. & Tobago vs. Mexico

USA vs. Guat. or C.R.

June 16-17, 2001

Jamaica vs. USA

Trin. & Tobago vs. Honduras

Mexico vs. Guat. or C.R.

June 19-20, 2001

Honduras vs. Mexico

USA vs. Trin. & Tobago

Guat. or C.R. vs. Jamaica

June 30-July 4, 2001

Honduras vs. Guat. or C.R.

Trin. & Tobago vs. Jamaica

Mexico vs. USA

Sept. 1-2, 2001

Jamaica vs. Mexico

Trin. & Tobago vs. Guat. or C.R.

USA vs. Honduras

Sept. 4-5, 2001

Honduras vs. Jamaica

Mexico vs. Trin. & Tobago

Guat. or C.R. vs. USA

Oct. 6-7, 2001

Honduras vs. Trin. & Tobago

USA vs. Jamaica

Guat. or C.R. vs. Mexico

Nov. 10-11, 2001

Jamaica vs. Guat. or C.R.

Trin. & Tobago vs. USA

Mexico vs. Honduras

* The top three teams qualify

by Soccer America managing editor Paul Kennedy



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