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U.S. Men Enter Final Week of Preparation for World Cup Qualifier vs. Mexico

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. (Wednesday, February 21, 2001) - The final countdown to the most important game of Bruce Arena's career as head coach of the U.S. Men's National Team begins today, just one week before the World Cup qualifying match against Mexico at Columbus Crew Stadium in Ohio (live at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 & Telemundo, and on the Futbol de Primera radio network).

The team continues its daily preparations in South Florida, where the 24 players selected by Arena will train once daily through Saturday before departing for Columbus on the evening of the 24th. In addition to the expected training routine, the USA squad will scrimmage against visiting MLS teams on three occasions to help build game fitness ahead of the Mexico match.

The USA and Mexico have met 43 times in a series that played its first game in 1934. Although Mexico holds a 27-7-9 record in all games played, the United States has lost only four of the last 12 meetings between the two border rivals and shutout the Tri-Colores twice in 2000.

Rome, Italy was the venue for the first-ever meeting between the U.S. and Mexico, and like the match next Wednesday it was also a World Cup qualifying match. American forward Aldo "Buff" Donelli scored four times as the USA went on to a 4-2 victory over Mexico, giving the Americans their second consecutive World Cup berth and setting the stage for a CONCACAF "Classico" rivalry that has lasted 67 years.

In addition to the obvious importance of earning three points in the opening match of the final round of qualifying, Arena's squad will also put its 16-game home qualifying unbeaten streak on the line in the match against Mexico. The U.S. Men's National Team last lost a World Cup qualifying game on home soil on May 31, 1985 against Costa Rica in Torrance, California.

%=macroPart|font/arialBlue2=%HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ... Tony Meola, who celebrates his 32nd birthday on Wednesday. Meola enjoyed a career season in 2000 with the Kansas City Wizards, winning almost every award available to a soccer player and capturing an MLS championship, and will battle Brad Friedel and Zach Thornton for the starting spot against Mexico. Meola was in goal last October when a young USA squad shutout its neighbors for the second consecutive time. In total, Meola has played 90 minutes five times against Mexico, collecting three shutouts and posting a 3-1-1 record.