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Honduras match offers hope to U.S. squad pretenders

© Reuters 2002

By Chris Cowles

SEATTLE, March 1 (Reuters) - With just a handful of places still up for grabs in the United States World Cup squad, individual performances may be more important than the result of Saturday's warm-up match against Honduras.

"The fun part comes when we put the pen to paper and start pencilling in names for the roster," said U.S. assistant coach Dave Sarachan.

Sarachan is helping assess players called up to a two-week camp that also includes a March 10 friendly against Ecuador in Birmingham, Alabama.

"It's no secret that there's a core of players that you figure will be in the (World Cup) team, but there's still a couple of months," said Sarachan.

"There's still time to get a look at everyone, but the guys are counting down the opportunities they have left."

Since the Honduras and Ecuador fixtures do not fall on official FIFA dates, U.S. coach Bruce Arena's team is composed almost entirely of domestic-based players, plus some who are struggling to find a first-team place with their European clubs.

"People are definitely fighting for positions," said Crystal Palace defender Gregg Berhalter. "Bruce wants everyone to be competitive and he wants to field the strongest team possible.

"I know I'm not my (club) manager's first choice, but when I'm with the U.S. team, I just try to come in and work as hard as possible and help the team."

Honduras and the U.S. met twice during CONCACAF region World Cup qualifying last year, with each team winning on the road. The Americans enjoyed a 2-1 win via a late Clint Mathis strike in San Pedro Sula.

In the return match, the Hondurans all but ran a disorganised U.S. off the field in Washington, D.C., the match finishing 3-2 but it could well have been 6-2.

Despite being named FIFA's "Team of the Year" for 2001, the Hondurans failed to gain a World Cup berth as they lost to Mexico 3-0 on the final day of qualifying.

"We have a lot of respect for that team (Honduras) and they know that," said Chris Armas who has played an integral role in the U.S. midfield since making his debut after his country's poor showing at the 1998 World Cup finals in France.

"We stole one at their (Honduras') place and they stole one at ours. But we're going to have guys fighting and playing hard, just like we did in the Gold Cup."

Despite fielding a largely second-string side, the Americans claimed their first major trophy in 11 attempts in winning the CONCACAF Gold Cup in January.

Honduras coach Ernesto Omar Luzardo has convened an 18-man squad, opting for a mix of veterans and a number of inexperienced players for the U.S. match.

The U.S., in World Cup Group D with Portugal, Poland and host South Korea, will play warm-up matches away to Germany (March 27 in Rostock) and Ireland (April 17, Dublin).

Home friendlies are scheduled against Mexico (April 3, Denver), Uruguay (May 12, Washington, D.C.), Jamaica (May 16, New Jersey) and the Netherlands (May 19, Foxboro) before the squad depart for Seoul.

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