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#2322: 40,000 expected at Orange Bowl tonight for opener (Gold Cup) (fwd)
Published Saturday, February 12, 2000, in the Miami Herald
Up for the Cup
40,000 expected at Orange Bowl tonight for opener
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
[Corbett interjects: Oh NO, What am I doing in ST. Louis tonight.
I should be in Florida!!!!!!!!!]
Gold Cup. Copa Oro. Coupe d'Or.
The words have been on South Florida's trilingual tongue for weeks.
>From Hialeah to Little Haiti to Coral Springs, soccer fans have been
eagerly awaiting the 12-team international tournament, which opens
tonight at the Orange Bowl with a doubleheader tailor-made for this area
-- USA vs. Haiti, followed by Colombia vs. Jamaica. A crowd of 40,000 is
expected, and as many as half of those fans are likely to be Haitian.
This event is so important to the island nation that Haitian President
Rene Preval is scheduled to be in the stands. The Cup has been the hot
topic of conversation on local Haitian talk-radio, and stores all over
Little Haiti are selling red and blue T-shirts, banners and team
posters. The Colombian and Jamaican national teams also have huge
followings in South Florida. Colombians are eager to see petulant but
popular forward Faustino Asprilla and how their team will do under
new coach Luis ``Chiqui'' Garcia, who took over 10 days ago after the
forced resignation of Javier Alvarez. Alvarez doubled as Olympic coach,
and a 9-0 Olympic qualifying loss to Brazil was unacceptable. Jamaican
fans, meanwhile, love their ``Reggae Boyz'' and were thrilled to hear
seven England-based players made the overseas trek for the Cup,
including Deon Burton, Frank Sinclair and Marcus Gayle.
Peru and Honduras, the other teams based in Miami for the biennial Cup,
also are expected to draw well for their games. Honduras is considered
the most improved team in Central America and could surprise people,
especially if forward Carlos Pavone plays up to his potential.
And then there's the United States, host of the tournament and 1991
champion, which will probably get the least enthusiastic reception.
Other than a smattering of diehard fans chanting ``U-S-A! U-S-A!,''
the majority at the Orange Bowl will be rooting against Bruce Arena's
team tonight and again Wednesday, when it plays Peru.
Does it bother the U.S. players? Sure. But they're used to it.
``We used to get more upset about it, but now we just accept it,''
forward Eric Wynalda said. ``This is a rare opportunity for
Haitian-American fans to see the Haitian team so I understand that
they'd rather root for the country they're from than for us.''
Defender Jeff Agoos said: ``It's nothing new, us being the visiting
team on our home soil. We played Iran in L.A., and it might as well have
been Tehran. We play Mexico in L.A., and it might as well be
Mexico City. I'm sure playing Haiti in Miami will be the same.''
The U.S. team is favored to beat Haiti and Peru and should get through
the quarterfinals on Feb. 19. The tournament semifinals are in San Diego
and Los Angeles, and the final is Feb. 27 at the L.A. Coliseum.
Three-time champion Mexico is expected to make the final again. Mexico
beat the United States, 1-0, in the 1998 final in front of a crowd of
91,000. The winning team earns $150,000. Second place is
worth $100,000, and third $75,000.
The Haitian team, which includes several players from the Seleccion
Haiti squad that won the local Copa Latina tournament last year,
realizes that it faces a daunting task. ``I am an optimist but also a
realist,'' said Haitian coach Zenono Jean-Baptiste, a Miami resident.
``We have to consider the value of the experience the U.S. team has
playing in the World Cup and other big international matches. Right now
they are 22nd in the FIFA rankings [Haiti is 99th], and they will pose a
big challenge for us.'' Arena is taking the Haiti game seriously. Though
this tournament isn't as important as World Cup qualifiers later this
year, Arena thought enough of the Gold Cup to call in overseas players
Claudio Reyna and Brad Friedel. Team USA is coming off a 2-1 win at
Chile and has beaten Germany and Argentina in the past year, but Arena
said his work has just begun.
``We can't take anyone lightly,'' said the U.S. coach. ``Haiti is a
well-organized team, and they'll have the home-field advantage. We've
been competitive the past year, and our match fitness is good, but we
have to find the right combination of 11. Gold Cup will help us do that,
and hopefully we can put ourselves in position to win this thing and
gain confidence for what will be a very important year.