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U.S. Soccer Wire: U.S. MNT Ties T&T to Finish 2002 World Cup Qualifying

THORNTON SHINES IN 0-0 DRAW AT TRINIDAD; U.S. FINISHES THIRD IN CONCACAF: The U.S. Men's National Team finished the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying today with a 0-0 draw versus Trinidad & Tobago at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain, Trinidad. Making his first appearance in a World Cup QualifIer and his first appearance for the U.S. in 2001, goalkeeper Zach Thornton was named "Chevrolet Man of the Match" after making four saves and thwarting several dangerous T&T attacks to preserve the shutout. "(It was) a tough game. Obviously, the conditions were difficult out there with the heat and the humidity," said U.S. MNT head coach Bruce Arena, whose overall qualifying record now stands at 8-4-4. "We are happy that qualifying is now over and we can fully place our attention on preparing for the World Cup." Like Mexico, who defeated Honduras 3-0 this weekend at Azteca Stadium to become the third and final CONCACAF team to earn a berth to the 2002 World Cup, the U.S. finished the 10-game final round with a 5-3-2 record and 17 points. But with Mexico's superior goal differential (+7 to the USA's +3), Mexico settles into second place and the U.S. slips to third. In the other CONCACAF qualifying match of the day, first place Costa Rica increased their group-leading point total to 23 with a 1-0 win in Jamaica that gave them a final record of 7-1-2.

U.S. IN ELITE CLUB WITH FOURTH STRAIGHT WORLD CUP BERTH: Twelve nations have participated in each of the last three World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998), including the United States.  With qualifying for the 2002 World Cup winding down, six of those teams have already secured a spot in Korea/Japan 2002:  Italy, Argentina, Spain, Cameroon, South Korea and the United States.  Three other European teams that have played in each of the last three World Cups - Germany, Belgium and Romania - are in the midst of the two-leg playoffs and can still qualify for Korea/Japan. Despite a rash of losses, Brazil still seems destined to secure a spot in the World Cup finals and maintain their record as the only team to appear in every World Cup. With Holland being eliminated from 2002 contention, the only other team with a streak of at least three straight World Cup appearances intact is Colombia, who are hanging on to sixth place with a final match in Paraguay on Wednesday in their quest to somehow qualify for the South American playoff against Australia.

FINAL FIVE EUROPE/ASIA WORLD CUP SPOTS TO BE SETTLED THIS WEEK: Five more spots in the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan will be settled this week, as four European playoffs and one Europe/Asia playoff series conclude.  On Wednesday (Nov. 14), the Czech Republic and Austria will try to overcome 1-0 deficits at against Beligum and Turkey, respectively, while Romania will have an easier task trying to rebound at home from a 2-1 defeat at Slovenia last weekend.  The other European series is tied at 1-1 after Germany scored in the second half to earn a crucial away draw against the Ukraine.  On Thursday (Nov. 15), Ireland will travel to Tehran for the fiercest of road trips trying to protect their 2-0 lead. 

A recap of the Europe/Asia schedule follows:
Wednesday, Nov. 14
Belgium at Czech Republic (Belgium leads, 1-0)
Slovenia at Romania (Slovenia leads, 2-1)
Austria at Turkey (Turkey leads, 1-0)
Ukraine at Germany (tied, 1-1)

Thursday, Nov. 15
Ireland at Iran (Ireland leads, 2-0)


STEWART RAISES THE BAR IN QUALIFYING PLAY: Earnie Stewart concluded a strong year for the U.S. on Sunday by going the distance in his 11th straight qualifier for the U.S.  All told, Stewart finished the year with a qualifying campaign record of eight goals in 15 appearances (and a team-high 1,302 minutes), and established an all-time record for U.S. World Cup qualifying goals scored with nine overall.  Stewart and Jeff Agoos were the only U.S. players to appear in all 10 final round qualifiers, where both players played all 900 minutes.  For his career, Stewart has now appeared in 27 World Cup qualifying matches, a U.S. record and one more than Jeff Agoos and Cobi Jones.

FANS VOTE WOLFF FOR "MOST OUTSTANDING QUALIFYING PERFORMANCE": Josh Wolff easily outdistanced five other candidates last week in a poll that asked, "Who had the Most Outstanding Performance by a U.S. player during the Final Round of 2002 World Cup qualifying?"  Wolff earned 37.5% of the votes for his performance versus Mexico on February 28, in which he came off the bench to score the game-winning goal and assist on an insurance tally by Earnie Stewart in a 2-0 U.S. victory to open the final round of qualifying at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  Wolff returned to action as a second-half substitute in Sunday's 0-0 draw at Trinidad & Tobago after missing most of the qualifying round due to an injury he suffered while playing for the Chicago Fire in April. Finishing well behind Wolff with 21.7% of the vote was Clint Mathis for his performance at Honduras on March 28, in which his skillfully-placed free kick goal in the 87th minute lifted the U.S. to a 2-1 victory.  Mathis also returned to training with the U.S. last week after missing several months of action following a knee injury in June.  Full results of the poll follow:
1) Josh Wolff vs. Mexico (Feb. 28) - 37.5%
2) Clint Mathis at Honduras (March 28) - 21.7%
3) Joe-Max Moore vs. Jamaica (Oct. 7) - 16.6%
4) Kasey Keller at Jamaica (June 16) - 12.7%
5) Claudio Reyna vs. Jamaica (Oct. 7) - 8.2%
6) Jeff Agoos vs. Trinidad & Tobago (June 20) - 3.4%


U.S. U-17s TO TAKE PART IN NIKE CLUB TOURNEY IN BRADENTON FROM NOV. 30-DEC. 3: The U.S. Soccer Federation and Nike are teaming up to host the first ever U.S. Soccer/Nike Club Tournament in Bradenton, Fla., from Nov. 30 - Dec. 3.  The event will include 15 teams playing in the Under-17 / Under-18 age group, including the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team, as well as four teams in the Under-15 / Under-16 age group.  The U.S. Under-17 team will include seven starters from the 2001 Under-17 World Championship team, including Ed Johnson, and nine players already involved in U.S. Soccer's full-time residency program in preparation for the 2003 Under-17 World Championship in Finland. This unique four-day event will see a total of 28 matches played and three evening coaching sessions led by U.S. Men's National Team head coach John Ellinger and his National Team coaching staff. The tournament includes three of the elite club programs in the United States, as the Chicago Sockers, FC Delco and Colorado Rush were all represented in the finals of the 2001 USYS National Championships.

ED JOHNSON'S GOAL, ASSIST HELP U-17s TOP JACKSONVILLE UNIVERSITY 2-1: Dallas Burn forward Ed Johnson scored the equalizer and assisted on Ed Gaven's 89th minute game winner as the U.S. Under-17 Men's National Team topped Jacksonville University 2-1 on Saturday (Nov. 10).  Guillermo Gonzalez set up Johnson's goal in the 53rd minute, erasing a Jacksonville goal in the 30th minute.  The U.S. outshot Jacksonville 6-2.


ECUADOR, PARAGUAY ADVANCE; FOURTH CONMEBOL SPOT TO BE DETERMINED WEDNESDAY: With one game remaining in the mammoth 18-game South American qualifying campaign, Ecuador and Paraguay have guaranteed passage to the 2002 World Cup. Ecuador advanced with a 1-1 draw against Uruguay, while Paraguay advanced despite losing to Venezuela, 3-1.  Meanwhile, Brazil shockingly awaits one more game before they can join the party. They host a surprising Venezuela team that has won four straight qualifiers. Brazil could have advanced this weekend, but dropped a 3-1 match at Bolivia, making it their sixth loss in qualifying play.  Uruguay and Colombia, at 26 and 24 points, respectively, trail Brazil's 27 points and fourth-place standing.  All three teams play Wednesday to decide the fourth automatic spot. The fifth-place South American team (currently Uruguay, who finish at home against Argentina) will play Australia for the final 2002 World Cup berth.  The following is the list of the 25 teams that have qualified for the 2002 World Cup:
CONCACAF (3 of 3) -  Costa Rica, Mexico, USA
AFC / AFRICA (5 of 5) - Cameroon, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Tunisia
CAF / ASIA (4 of 4.5) - China, Japan (co-host), Saudi Arabia, South Korea (co-host)
UEFA / EUROPE (10 of 14.5) - Croatia, Denmark, France (champion), England, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden
CONMEBOL / SOUTH AMERICA (3 of 4.5) -  Argentina,  Ecuador,  Brazil
OFC / OCEANIA (0 of 0.5) - n/a

FINAL WORLD CUP BERTH TO BE SETTLED NOV. 20 & 25: The final berth in the 2002 World Cup in Korea/Japan will be settled with a two-leg playoff between Oceania winner Australia and the fifth-place finisher in South American qualifying (either Brazil, Colombia or Uruguay).  The series will open on Nov. 20 in Australia, before moving to South America for the finale on Nov. 25 (just six days ahead of the Final Draw in Seoul, Korea).  Australia is flying high following Sunday's 1-1 home draw with France at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.


PEAK PERFORMANCE: It's hard to ignore or underestimate what head coach Javier Aguirre has done with a Mexican National Team that had just four points (a lowly 1-3-1 record) at the halfway point of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Since he took over and revamped the lineup, Mexico has gone undefeated with a 4-0-1 record that earned them second place in the group and a trip to Korea/Japan for the 2002 World Cup.

MARQUEE MATCH-UP: Six more tickets will get punched for Korea/Japan this week, including five teams in European playoffs. The second leg of the two-game series takes place this week, as Czech Republic hosts Belgium (Belgium leads 1-0), Romania hosts Slovenia (Slovenia leads 2-1), Germany hosts Ukraine (1-1), and Turkey (Turkey leads 1-0) hosts Austria on Wednesday (Nov. 14). On Thursday, Iran hosts Ireland (Ireland leads 2-0). In South American qualifying, all 10 teams play Wednesday to determine who earns the fourth automatic CONMEBOL spot.

SOCCER SHOCKER: Losing to Bolivia 3-1 on a night they led 1-0 and had a chance to clinch a spot in their 17th straight World Cup was bad enough for Brazil.  But a quick look at the standings reflects a true soccer shocker, whether Brazil advance to the 2002 World Cup tournament or not.  With six losses in 17 games, the four-time World Cup champions have more losses than five other South American teams in qualifying! More losses than Uruguay, and even more losses than sixth-place Colombia.  Only Bolivia, Chile, Peru and Venezuela have suffered more defeats than Brazil.

"We will silence 120,000 people. We have better individuals than Mexico and a better team than Mexico."
- Honduras MNT head coach Ramon Madariaga, before the country's disappointing 3-0 loss to Mexico.