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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:35 a.m., Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Soccer: US players excited about playing at Wembley

AP Sports Writer

LONDON Playing in England is commonplace these days for American soccer players. Playing at the stadium dubbed the "home of football" against England is enough to make most of the U.S. team giddy.

"It's an amazing venue," Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard said ahead of tomorrow's exhibition game at Wembley. "Everyone is excited. It's one of the places around the world, that when you look at having an opportunity to play there you don't take it for granted."

Not even after years of playing in England's Premier League.

Such is the allure of Wembley, the bastion of English soccer for more than 80 years.

It will be the first time the U.S. plays at the new Wembley, which opened last year. The Americans' only match at the old stadium was a 2-0 loss in 1994.

Since Wembley is reserved for national team matches and cup and promotion finals, playing there is a rare opportunity, even for the seven England-based players on the U.S squad.

"It's exciting because we play here and we make a living, and we play alongside some of the great players that England has," Howard said. "But it won't be a situation like we are a deer in the headlights. We won't be awed by the size of the game. We have something to prove as a team and we're up for the challenge."

For Carlos Bocanegra, the match will also be a chance to boost his chances of staying in England. Bocanegra was released by Premier League club Fulham on Friday, and hopes to find a new address in the offseason.

"But tomorrow is not about me," Bocanegra said. "Now we're together with the U.S. team and it's a totally different situation."

John Terry will captain England, whose lineup could include David Beckham, Landon Donovan's teammate on the Los Angeles Galaxy.

"He is very fresh at the moment, like the USA players who have just started their season," said England coach Fabio Capello, who gave his first news conference in English rather than Italian. "I think the future is good for David. There is no problem. He is very fit now."

Donovan, who leads Major League Soccer with nine goals, could become the fourth-youngest player ever to make 100 international appearances but could miss the match because of a tight groin. U.S. coach Bob Bradley, preparing for the start of World Cup qualifying next month, said Donovan's match fitness will be decided tomorrow and that he could let the forward rest ahead of this weekend's Galaxy.

"A lot of attention have been brought upon the possibility of Landon gaining his 100th cap at Wembley, and all of us would see that as a special way to do it," Bradley said. "But decisions get made with many, many things in mind."

England is still reeling from failing to qualify for next month's European Championship, and players are eager to impress Capello, who will be coaching his third game with the Three Lions. England, which also plays Sunday at Trinidad and Tobago, has a star-filled roster that includes Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Owen Hargreaves.

After this, the U.S. team has exhibitions at Spain (June 4) and against Argentina at East Rutherford, N.J. (June 8), before opening World Cup qualifying on June 15 against Barbados at Carson, Calif.

While tomorrow's match is just an exhibition, there's something special about playing at Wembley. And playing England.

The United States is 2-6 against the English, winning at the 1950 World Cup and in a 1993 exhibition game at Foxborough, Mass. In the last matchup, England won 2-1 at Chicago's Soldier Field on May, 28, 2005.

"We're probably the underdogs," Howard said. "But we're not a pushover by any stretch of the imagination. We're going to fight them, we're going to tackle, we're going to give as good as we get."

Bradley insisted that his team, which is 2-0-1 this year, will not be awe-struck by the atmosphere, and is looking to his England-based players to set the tone.

"We have players who are playing in the best league in the world, week in and week out, playing big roles in their teams," Bradley said. "It's guys like Timmy and Carlos that step on that field with a little better sense what this game will be like."