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Memorable Year Only Gets Better for the Galaxy's Califf


ADELAIDE, Australia — Danny Califf came to Australia without any great expectations. After all, how much better could the year possibly get? In the first eight months of 2000, the 20-year-old from Orange:

* Became a Major League Soccer first-round draft pick when he was snapped up by the Galaxy in February as the sixth player selected overall;

* Became a Galaxy starter in May;

* Got married one June morning and played a game for the Galaxy that night;

* Scored his first MLS goal;

* Was named to the 18-player U.S. Olympic men's team.

Pretty good for a youngster not far removed from Orange High who said farewell to the University of Maryland after two years to pursue his dream of playing professional soccer--with a little surfing and punk rock on the side.

So, no, Califf was not expecting any more good fortune to come his way when the U.S. Olympic team arrived in Canberra to begin preparing for its opening game against the Czech Republic.

But 24 hours before kickoff, Brian Dunseth, the U.S. captain and central defender from Upland, was sidelined because of a groin injury. Clive Charles, the U.S. coach, immediately turned to Califf and told him he would be starting.

Califf hasn't looked back since.

If any U.S. soccer player has stamped his mark on these Olympic Games, it's the 6-foot, 160-pound Califf, who has not put a foot wrong while anchoring the U.S. defense. He has played so well that Dunseth, a more than capable player, has not been able to break back into the lineup.

That's good news for Charles but bad news for Galaxy Coach Sigi Schmid because Califf is being noticed not only by Australian fans but by scouts and agents from European clubs. It won't be long, it seems, before the offers start coming in and MLS has to fight to keep one of its best young players.

Califf's steady performance alongside Chad McCarty at the heart of the defense is a major reason the U.S. has reached the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament for the first time.

It is also the reason the Americans are given an even chance of defeating Japan at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide tonight and advancing to the medal round.

"I'm just extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to come in and play," Califf said Tuesday night after he had stuck another star onto his resume by scoring the opening goal in a 3-1 victory over Kuwait.

"Brian [Dunseth] made the ultimate sacrifice in telling Clive that he couldn't play [because of the injury] and I obviously was the one who benefited from that. I just tried to grab the opportunity with both hands and hold on as tight as I could."

When Califf scored his first MLS goal--against the Tampa Bay Mutiny at the Rose Bowl in June, his reaction was to sprint to the corner flag and slap it twice, forehand and backhand.

After scoring on a superb header against Kuwait, he resisted that urge.

"My wife wasn't too happy with that the last time I did it," Califf said. "I wasn't even thinking about it. I was extremely excited I scored. We needed the win."

Califf's play has drawn praise from coaches and teammates alike.

"Danny has been absolutely outstanding for us," said Brad Friedel, the U.S. national team and former UCLA goalkeeper. "To be honest, I didn't know him at all, I've seen him play a few times in MLS, but he and Chad have been really, really solid."

Califf has been unbeatable in the air, time and again clearing long balls floated into the U.S. half. His positional play has been faultless and his tackling solid. Being a scoring threat on set plays and corner kicks is an added bonus.

One reason for his coolness under fire is the international experience he has gained at youth levels. He played for the U.S. in the FIFA Under-17 World Championship in Egypt in 1997 and in the FIFA World Youth Championship in Nigeria in 1999.

Still, it was a difficult choice for Charles.

"That was one of the hardest decisions I've had to make," he said of keeping Califf in the starting lineup even though Dunseth has recovered and can play.

Tonight--just as the Czech Republic, Cameroon and Kuwait did before--Japan will find out that there is a good reason Califf is still starting.

"I really think that if we play the way we played in the first three games, we have a shot at a medal," Califf said. "We have weapons and we're solid. We're not afraid of any team in the tournament."

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