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   00 May, 2002 | 0000 IST


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Americans see fresh chance to boost sport's profile

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The World Cup finals will provide the United States with another chance to lift the profile of the game in their home country, national coach Bruce Arena said on Wednesday.

Speaking in a final teleconference before departing for South Korea, Arena said he had already a noticed a significant upturn in interest in a country where the sport has failed to take a deep hold.

Eight years after the U.S. staged the World Cup finals, an event that gave birth to Major League Soccer, North America's only professional soccer league, interest in the sport remains low.

A desperately poor showing at the 1998 World Cup in France, where a bickering U.S. squad failed to win a game, dealt a heavy blow to the sport in North America.

"We didn't fall off the face of the earth but we had to do a little reconstruction," said Arena.

"But you can see some excitement and attention for our team as we go to the World Cup. We are in the media which is not typical for our sport in this country.

"We have a player on the cover of Sports Illustrated (Clint Mathis), we're getting great coverage by our national newspapers and we're getting a little recognition on television.

"It's a real shot in the arm for the sport.

"If we continue to move forward and advance into the second round that's another week of media attention for our sport that we desperately need.

"But having said that, if we don't, if we show well it's still a positive for the sport in this country.


"We're not going to Korea for a vacation," added Arena. "We're going to play three-plus games. That's our attitude."

Drawn in Group D with highly fancied Portugal, hosts South Korea and dark horses Poland, getting through to the second round would represent a major achievement for the Americans.

One major selection headache facing Arena is who to play in goal: Kasey Keller or Brad Friedel, who play for Tottenham and Blackburn Rovers respectively in the English premier league.

"If you asked me the name of our goalkeeper right now I couldn't do it," said Arena. "I have two weeks to sort that out.

"We're going to have to make a decision and perhaps that will be on a hunch. Clearly at this point we don't have a starting lineup established.

"We need to choose between Friedel and Keller, they have both been outstanding not only in camp but over the last couple of months."

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