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U.S. tries to close in on World Cup Berth

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  • U.S. tries to close in on World Cup Berth

    EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Claudio Reyna is rested, and ready to help lead the United States closer to a World Cup berth.

    He skipped a pair of World Cup qualifiers in early June, drawing some criticism from Bruce Arena. But the U.S. coach now praises the decision by his captain, who wanted to heal from leg injuries and get ready for what he hopes will be 12 straight healthy months that will take him through next year's World Cup.

    "I just needed a rest. I wanted to get my body right," he said Tuesday, a day ahead of the Americans' World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago.

    The 32-year-old midfielder missed much of last season with Manchester City because of leg injuries and has played just once with the national team since September, the 2-1 loss at Mexico in a World Cup qualifier in March.

    He missed the game against Guatemala three days later because of a sprained ankle, then wanted a seven-week rest after the English Premier League season ended. Reyna spent the time with his family in the Hamptons and the Caribbean.

    "Being injured for so long is a lot worse mentally than when you're playing and having to deal with just trying to play well," he said. "I was looking at the big picture, the long term. I didn't want to just play through injuries and not really be fit. I think it benefits me and the team if I'm fully fit and mentally rested. I felt I needed it. It was hard because I've never taken a break from the national team since I was 20."

    The U.S. captain most of the time he's been on the field since 1999, he also was captain of Manchester City for the first time last Saturday, filling in while regular captain Sylvain Distin is sidelined for the opening month.

    "He's been our most consistent player that's played in Europe and has played at the highest level for a long time," Landon Donovan said. "He doesn't yell at people. He doesn't say much, but he's just calming. Our team constantly wants to go, go, go, and he's the guy that knows when to settle it down. But he also knows when to go. You always want him on the ball. He's going to make things happen. It's invaluable."

    Arena says Reyna looks fit and thinks the rest was beneficial.

    "The young player look up to him," the coach said. "The older players obviously are friends with him and he brings confidence to the group."

    The United States (4-1) is second in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 12 points, one behind Mexico (4-0-1), and can move to the verge of qualifying for its fifth straight World Cup.

    Costa Rica (2-2-1), which plays at Mexico, is third with seven points, followed by Guatemala and T&T (1-3-1) with four each and Panama (0-3-2) with two. The top three teams qualify, and the No. 4 nation goes to a playoff against the winner of the match between Bahrain and Uzbekistan for another berth.

    With a win, the United States would clinch no worse than fourth place and almost certainly need no more than three points from its final four games to qualify.

    Reyna will be paired with John O'Brien for the first time since the quarterfinal loss to Germany at the 2002 World Cup. Hamstring and Achilles' tendon injuries limited O'Brien to one game with the national team between that tournament and last month's CONCACAF Gold Cup.

    "Having Claudio and John makes it easy on me because they do all the work," Donovan said. "I don't have to worry about getting the ball and moving it from side to side or finding people. They do that. I just get in front of the goal and try to score, so it's going to be fun for me."

    The Americans, playing their 100th World Cup qualifier, are 11-1-3 against the Soca Warriors, including 7-0-2 at home. They are 16-0-8 against Caribbean opponents since a loss at Trinidad in November 1994 and are unbeaten in 30 straight home games against regional rivals since a September 2001 defeat to Honduras in a qualifier.

    At least O'Brien knows there will be a game Wednesday. ADO Den Haag's league opener last weekend against Ajax was postponed by Amsterdam Mayor Job Cohen until January.

    "There's a bunch of festivals going in Amsterdam right now, and there weren't enough cops to ensure the safety of the fans," O'Brien said.

    Notes:@ Trinidad & Tobago's Scott Sealy, a 24-year-old forward for the Kansas City Wizards, has five goals in his last six MLS games and seven overall in the MLS, tops among rookies. ... GK Tim Howard is with the national team for the first time this year, but doesn't figure to play. "I think Kasey Keller would have to fall out of his bedroom window tonight," Arena said, referring to his regular starter.