CHICAGO (December 20, 2004) — The United States Men’s National Team will open its home schedule of final round qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday, March 30, 2005 at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. Kickoff against Guatemala is set for 7 p.m. CT, and the match will be broadcast live on ESPN2. Fans can also follow the match on ussoccer.com’s MatchTracker, presented by Philips Electronics.
The match in Birmingham is the first of five qualifiers in this round to be played in the United States, and will follow two road qualifying matches for the USA in Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 9 and Mexico on March 26 or 27. Ticket information for the game will be announced in January and fans can register for advance ticket information now at ussoccer.com.
“Birmingham has been a great host to international soccer, from the Olympics to the national team,” said U.S. Manager Bruce Arena, who coached the USA’s 1996 Olympic Team that played two matches at Legion Field. “Winning home games is essential in this round, therefore the match against Guatemala will be crucial in our efforts to qualify for the World Cup. We’re looking forward to receiving great support from the city and our fans.”
The U.S. holds a 7-4-3 lifetime record against Guatemala, including a perfect 6-0-0 mark on U.S. soil. The last time the teams met was during semifinal round qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The teams split points in a 1-1 draw in Mazatenango, Guatemala on July 16, 2000, then Brian McBride tallied the lone goal in the USA’s hard fought 1-0 win on Sept. 3, 2000 at RFK Stadium.
Guatemala is one of the surprises in the final round, finishing tied on points with Costa Rica at the top of Group 2. Guatemala started out strong in group play, taking seven out of nine points from their first three matches. Behind the goal-scoring prowess of Los Angeles Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz, Guatemala held on from there to enter the final round of qualifying for the first time in history. Ruiz, the two-time MLS scoring leader that has amassed 50 goals in only three seasons, has proved virtually unstoppable at the international level by averaging a goal a game in semifinal round play.
“Birmingham is proud to host this very prestigious World Cup Qualifying match,” said Gene Hallman, the Executive Director of the Alabama Sports Foundation. “Our community is truly honored to be one of only five U.S. cities selected for the final round of qualifying. This will be the most significant soccer event held in Alabama since the 1996 Olympics. We believe that many soccer fans from all over the southeastern United States will come to Birmingham to support our men’s national team.”
The U.S. will be returning to Birmingham’s Legion Field Stadium for the first time since March 10, 2002, when the U.S. defeated Ecuador 1-0 in a World Cup preparation match before 24,133 fans. The team’s only other visit came nearly two years earlier, when the U.S. MNT drew 1-1 with Tunisia in front of 21,637 fans in the team’s first-ever match in Alabama. Birmingham also served as a venue for soccer at the 1996 Olympic Games, where the Bruce Arena-led U.S. Olympic team played two matches at Legion Field, falling to Argentina and topping Tunisia.
The U.S., along with Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, will compete in the 10-game round-robin format from Feb. 9 through Oct. 12, 2005, with the top three teams automatically advancing to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The fourth-place team will compete in a two-game playoff to be held Nov. 12/13 and Nov. 16 against the fifth-place finisher in Asian qualifying.
U.S. Final Round Qualifying Schedule