Quick Turnaround Sends US Men's National Team Back to World Cup Qualifying Tomorrow

By Ridge Mahoney USA TODAY - With the CONCACAF Gold Cup trophy tucked away in the Chicago offices of U.S. Soccer the U.S. men's team returns to its 2006 World Cup qualifying schedule Wednesday with less preparation time than usual.

Players began arriving Sunday for the game in Hartford against Trinidad and Tobago (ESPN2 6 p.m. MT) leaving only three training days for the rematch. The USA defeated Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 on Feb. 9 to open the final round of World Cup qualifying.

The top three teams from the six-team group advance automatically to the tournament in Germany and although the USA — in second place at 4-1-0 with 12 points — can't clinch a spot Wednesday it will move very close to doing so by winning.

"It's a quick turnaround but most of the guys are used to it says goalkeeper Kasey Keller who played for his German club Borussia Moenchengladbach on Saturday and crossed the Atlantic Ocean on Sunday.

"We were together for nearly a month during the Gold Cup and sometimes that can wear on you. But we've got a pretty good group of guys so we enjoy getting back together and getting down to business."

The Gold Cup which the USA won July 24 against Panama 3-1 on penalty kicks after a 0-0 tie did more than breed camaraderie. Several players used by coach Bruce Arena either launched their international careers or revived them.

Defender Jimmy Conrad played in all six Gold Cup games despite having zero appearances before the tournament. Midfielder John O'Brien a star in the 2002 World Cup had played one U.S. match in the interim because of injuries. He too played in all six Gold Cup games.

Brad Davis a late addition to the Gold Cup roster celebrated his first national team action by putting away the final penalty kick against Panama. Santino Quaranta who had played for U.S. youth teams but never for the national team also made his debut during the tournament and converted a decisive penalty in the final.

"Over the next month or so we'll really see the value the Gold Cup had for us Arena says. "Because of injuries and suspensions a few guys had to play a bit more than we anticipated and that can only make our squad deeper in the long run."

Conrad O'Brien and Quaranta are in camp for the Trinidad game for which Arena has recalled midfielders Claudio Reyna and Eddie Lewis. Both sat out the Gold Cup.

Their availability will mitigate somewhat the absence of DaMarcus Beasley the team's No. 2 scorer in 2005 with three goals and four assists. He is being retained by his Dutch club PSV Eindhoven to recover from an injury.

"The presence of Claudio and John in the midfield has to make us a better team Arena says of using Reyna and O'Brien in the same midfield. "It allows us to get more players into the attack. It allows us to vary our attack.

"Unfortunately we haven't had them on the field together since the World Cup so it'll be interesting if we do pair them in the midfield how they're able to play together."

Under an international calendar drawn up by FIFA the sport's governing body certain dates are set aside for competitive matches such as World Cup qualifiers and others are for exhibitions.

Major League Soccer plays an April-November schedule unlike the August-May schedule that is the norm in Europe yet the international dates are fixed and based on the European calendar.

A few European teams will play qualifiers Wednesday but since it is a date designed for exhibitions players need to report to their national teams only 48 hours before the game. On competitive dates players can be called either four or five days before the game.