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The Inside Track | SOCCER GRAHAME L. JONES

Olsen's Chance Is Only Half of What It's Worth

January 23, 2006|GRAHAME L. JONES

Ben Olsen is one of the hopeful ones, one of the players fighting a rear guard action to make the U.S. World Cup roster.

At 28, the D.C. United midfielder knows that 2006 is his last chance to make it onto soccer's biggest stage and he is going to give it everything he has.

So it was with understandable disappointment that Olsen came off the field at halftime Sunday evening in the U.S. team's 0-0 tie with Canada. Was he pleased with his performance?

"No," he said, "because I got subbed."

With Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien and Pablo Mastroeni all sidelined by injury, U.S. Coach Bruce Arena has been casting around for someone to play the holding midfielder role just in front of the defense.

On Sunday evening it was Olsen's turn, and he would have preferred 90 minutes to 45 -- Kerry Zavagnin came on in his place. As it is, Olsen has no idea of his chances of making it to Germany, so every playing minute counts.

"Who knows?" he said with a shrug when asked to assess his chances. "I'd like to say I don't think about it, but you can't help but to dream and give it your best shot.

"But what can you do? There are a lot of guys in my position who are very experienced and certainly ahead of me, so ... "

Arena said it is too early to rule any player in or out.

"Laying odds on anybody in this camp is still a little premature," he said. "But he's in the mix. We're looking at three players in his position. What chance do they have? Who knows? A lot of things happen between now and then."

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The U.S. team's three first-round opponents also are gearing up for the World Cup.

The Americans open against the Czech Republic on June 12 in Gelsenkirchen and will fly in two days before from their base in Hamburg. The Czechs, meanwhile, have opted to stay at a lakeside hotel in Westerburg, only a couple of hours' drive from Gelsenkirchen.

"We can get around by bus without any problems," team spokesman Lukas Tucek told Reuters.

The Czechs so far have announced two pre-World Cup matches -- on the road against Turkey on March 1 and against Saudi Arabia in Innsbruck, Austria, on May 26.

Italy, which the U.S. plays on June 17 in Kaiserslautern, will play World Cup host Germany on March 1 in Florence, the Italian soccer federation said. The countries have not played each other since 2003, when Italy won, 1-0, in Stuttgart.

Ghana, the U.S. opponent on June 22 in Nuremberg, opens play against Nigeria today in the African Nations Cup in Egypt.

Arena has sent assistant coach Curt Onalfo to Port Said to scout Ghana in its three first-round matches, but the value of that might be limited since the Black Stars are missing three key players -- Chelsea attacking midfielder Michael Essien, Udinese defensive midfielder Sulley Muntari and Modena striker Asamoah Gyan, because of injury.

"We cannot expect too much without these players; them not being here is a big problem for us," Ghana Coach Ratomir Dujkovic told Reuters.

Ghana, whose national team players are drawn from clubs in 14 countries across Africa, Europe and the Middle East, also plays Senegal on Friday and Zimbabwe on Jan. 31.

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Mexico, which plays Iran, Angola and Portugal, in the first round of the World Cup, begins it preparations on Wednesday night with a game against Norway in San Francisco. Coach Ricardo Lavolpe has bowed to public pressure and recalled controversial 33-year-old striker Cuauhtemoc Blanco to the squad after ignoring him for most of the last year.

Mexico's players received two bits of encouraging news last week. On Friday, Angola, their opponent on June 16 in Hanover, was overwhelmed, 3-1, by Cameroon in the first round of the African Nations Cup. On Saturday, striker Jared Borgetti, the only Mexican player in the English Premier League, scored his first league goal for Bolton Wanderers.

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Angry e-mails have been sent to U.S. Soccer in Chicago and also to newspapers around the country from fans shut out in the scramble for tickets to U.S. World Cup games.

The problem is, there is nothing that the soccer federation or anyone else can do about it.

Even fans who jumped through every hoop and met all criteria in applying for tickets found themselves out of luck.

The U.S., like all 32 participating countries, received tickets amounting to 8% of stadium capacity where it plays, or fewer than 10,000 tickets in all. But it was deluged with almost 40,000 ticket requests.

"We knew from the beginning that demand would exceed supply and that some of our fans would be disappointed," U.S. Soccer spokesman Jim Moorhouse said. "The overwhelming response was incredible."

The federation has asked FIFA for additional tickets should they become available, but that is unlikely.

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