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 May 6, 2002 | 1000 IST

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U.S. squad get head-start on W'Cup rivals

While the majority of nations heading to the World Cup finals are still to name their squads, the United States team is already in camp and preparing for an intensive series of warm-up matches.

Coach Bruce Arena announced his provisional 23-man squad on April 21 and last week assembled nearly his entire selection for a 10-day camp that will focus on player fitness.

The United States kick off their campaign against fancied Portugal on June 5 in Suwon, South Korea.

"Everything's jolly right now," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller, "because everybody still thinks they're playing (in the starting team). If things weren't good now, then there would be trouble."

Keller, who returns to his club Tottenham Hotspur on Tuesday for their final English premier league game of the season against his former team Leicester City on Saturday, was quick to downplay what has become one of the big talking points around the U.S. camp -- who will be the first choice goalkeeper.

Keller and Brad Friedel of Blackburn Rovers are currently battling it out for the starting slot.

"Nothing (about selection) has been said, I just do what I am told to do," Keller said. "I think the fact that I'm going back to play for Tottenham and that I've gotten a number of games for the U.S. has been really good for me, but right now, I'm just doing what I am told to do, here and at Spurs."


Keller expects to start for Tottenham against Leicester, having forced his way into the team after spending most of the season on the bench.

Keller's return to Tottenham means he will miss the first of three friendlies for the United States, a May 12 clash with Uruguay in Washington.

The U.S. will then play Jamaica on May 16 in East Rutherford, New Jersey followed by a meeting with surprise non-qualifiers the Netherlands on May 19 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

"The opponents are in no way supposed to mimic our World Cup opponents," said coach Arena, who leaves with his squad on May 24 for their base in Seoul, South Korea.

"We think we've lined up some quality opponents, but it all really came down to who was available.

"It's going to give us an opportunity to see all of our guys and figure out our starting team (for Portugal)," he added.

Playing in Group D, the U.S. will also face co-hosts South Korea on June 10 and Poland on June 14.

As well as Keller, Sunderland midfielder Claudio Reyna also departed for England to prepare for his club's final match of the season against Derby. Sunderland need at least a draw to safeguard them from relegation.

Three other U.S. players have been tied to their clubs.

Midfielder John O'Brien helped Ajax win their first Dutch league title since 1998 on Sunday and will remain with the club until after their Dutch Cup final against Utrecht on May 12.

Defender David Regis is expected to join the U.S. squad this week after his French club, FC Metz, failed to avoid relegation with a 1-1 draw against Lorient.


The U.S. federation remains at loggerheads with Fulham who have refused to release Eddie Lewis until after the club's final game on May 11 against Blackburn Rovers.

The midfielder has not appeared for the London club in more than 18 months and is not expected to start for the U.S., but Arena remains frustrated that he cannot call Lewis to the camp.

"It's unfair to the player and it doesn't help us," Arena said of Fulham coach Jean Tigana's refusal to release Lewis. "There's nothing I can do. I think the guy (Tigana) is an absolute jerk."

With their first World Cup game five weeks away, the players are now focussing all their attention on preparing for the challenges ahead, according to striker Brian McBride.

"Everyone is getting really focused on training right now," he said. "We're not talking about the World Cup or our opponents yet, but really just working on fitness, getting the team chemistry together and thinking about the games coming up.

"So far though, the mood (in camp) has been really good."

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