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World Cup: US Gets Ready to Face Portugal - 2002-06-04

The U.S. soccer team is set to play its opening match at the World Cup finals Wednesday against Portugal in Suwon, South Korea. It appears the Americans will not be at full strength.

It's a coach's worst nightmare, especially in an event as big as the World Cup. Two U.S. players expected to be in the starting line-up against Portugal are nursing injuries.

Midfielder and playmaking captain Claudio Reyna has a strained leg muscle and striker Clint Mathis, who has been the team's top scorer recently, has a swollen knee.

Coach Bruce Arena has said previously he would not play anyone who is not 100 percent fit. Even if he changes his mind, it would seemingly be unlikely that Reyna or Mathis could play a full 90 minutes.

Both players have been injury prone in the past, but it had appeared they would be healthy for this World Cup.

Recently, Coach Arena told a news conference how much midfielder Claudio Reyna, who plays professional for the Glasgow Rangers in Scotland, means to the U.S. team. "One area now where he is clearly an outstanding player is in the defensive end of the field," he said. "He positions himself well. He is good with his tackles and he is very responsible on the defensive side of the ball. Obviously the other way he is a good player is helping us keep possession, he is a good passer and he helps settle our team down."

Even with a healthy Reyna and Clint Mathis, Coach Arena acknowledged that the U.S. Soccer team has a difficult task opening World Cup play against Portugal, a team ranked fifth in the world. "We obviously think they are an outstanding team," he said. "They have demonstrated that. They have a very high ranking in the world. They are a team that is not afraid to say, 'We think we can win this World Cup.' We respect the qualities of the team. Obviously we realize they have some great attacking players and good players at every position and it is going to be a very difficult match. But we believe when we step out on the field on Wednesday we will be prepared mentally and physically to win the game."

But the question remains how ready striker Clint Mathis and midfielder Claudio Reyna, will be. In the opening Group D match Tuesday in Busan, South Korea, the host nation defeated Poland, 2-0. This is South Korea's sixth appearance in a World Cup and the team's first victory in the tournament after 10 losses and four draws. In the day's other match in South Korea, Costa Rica spoiled China's debut at the World Cup with a 2-0 victory in Gwangju.