US starts World Cup rehearsals

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Now that US players have had nearly two weeks to get reacquainted, it's time for the games to begin.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:40 IST
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Now that US players have had nearly two weeks to get reacquainted, it's time for the games to begin. The American World Cup team meets Morocco on Tuesday night in the first of three exhibition games in a six-day span that will give players a chance to show manager Bruce Arena they belong in the lineup for the tournament opener against the Czech Republic on June 12. ''You've done the job of getting on the roster,'' midfielder Clint Dempsey said, ''but now you've got to try to get in games.'' The United States is ranked fifth by FIFA - but not even the American team takes the ranking too seriously. Morocco, ranked 36th, just missed out on qualifying for the World Cup, finishing one point behind Tunisia. Most World Cup teams are preparing in Europe, so it was difficult to entice top nations to come to the United States for friendlies. None of the three teams the Americans are playing made the 32-nation field. The Atlas Lions are the highest-ranked of the three opponents. Next up is 71st-ranked Venezuela on Friday in Cleveland, followed by No. 70 Latvia two nights later in East Hartford, Connecticut. For John O'Brien, trying to regain fitness following a lengthy series of injuries, the three games are key. Arena has said if the midfielder isn't healthy, he could be replaced on the 23-man roster. ''My goal last week was to kind of show I could do it in practice. I did that,'' said O'Brien, who scored the first goal against Portugal in the Americans' 2002 World Cup opener. ''So now it's the next step: Starting to get into games and show that I belong.'' The advance sale was over 20,000 for the game in The Coliseum, which has a capacity of about 68,000. After Monday's practice, Arena talked about how difficult the task was just to reach the tournament, comparing it with other sports that are played in the United States. ''You start in a process that began four years ago with 204, 205 countries, and now you're down to 32,'' he said. Arena said it's too early to start thinking about a possible lineup against the Czechs, who are ranked second. (AP)