RICHMOND, Va. — The U.S. national soccer team is looking forward to playing its first true home match of 1998 World Cup qualifying today against Trinidad and Tobago at University of Richmond Stadium.
Last weekend, the Americans defeated Guatemala, 2-0, in Washington, but, to the shock and irritation of U.S. players and coaches, a majority of the crowd was waving Guatemalan flags.
"We expect a much more partisan crowd for the American team," Coach Steve Sampson said. "I don't know of there being too many Trinidadians in the East, but then again you never know. I expect it to be very pro-American."
Sampson will welcome all the support his squad can get. Unlike last weekend, when Guatemala used an aggressive, physical style to disrupt the heavily favored Americans--"It wasn't just physical; it was outright dirty," forward Eric Wynalda said--Trinidad and Tobago will employ a speed-oriented attack led by European-based stars Dwight Yorke (England) and Russell Latapy (Portugal).
That style could cause problems for the U.S. squad, which is slow and sometimes fragile in the back. With Trinidad and Tobago's speed a chief concern, Sampson said he will consider starting D.C. United's Eddie Pope in what would be the 22-year-old's U.S. debut. His assignment would be to mark Yorke, star forward on Premier League club Aston Villa.
"The only question mark with Eddie is that he doesn't have a lot of international experience," Sampson said. "But we might be in a situation where we might be forced to put him in right away."
Trinidad and Tobago--which lost to the United States on the final day of qualifying for the last spot in the 1990 World Cup--is desperate for a win or tie Sunday. It played its first two matches in Port of Spain, but fell to Costa Rica and was tied by Guatemala. A loss Sunday would virtually crush its hopes of being one of two teams from the round-robin group to advance to next year's regional finals.
"They have to win, they have to give everything," U.S. defender Thomas Dooley said. "It will be different than last week. I don't think they will be so mean like Guatemala."
Sampson might shuffle his lineup Sunday. In addition to possibly using Pope, he could call on the dynamic Preki Radosavljevic to pair with Wynalda at forward and move Joe-Max Moore to midfield. One position is certain: Kasey Keller will start in goal again.
Trinidad's free-wheeling style should give the U.S. attack plenty of scoring chances.
"They have players with tremendous speed," Sampson said. "It's a team that loves to run at the opponent . . . They play very exciting soccer, but at the same time, those risks to go forward all the time create opportunities for the opposition."