American University will play at home against Hartwick in a semifinal of the NCAA soccer tournament Saturday at 1 p.m., the NCAA tournament committee announced yesterday.

American Coach Pete Mehlert was slightly surprised by the announcement because Hartwick (17-2-1), a soccer power of long standing, was ranked third in the country in the final poll before the tournament and played at home in its two tournament games against Columbia and Boston University.

"I think it's fantastic," said Mehlert, whose Eagles (18-2-2) were ranked fifth in the final poll and won at sixth-ranked South Carolina, 2-0, in Sunday's quarterfinal game to reach the semifinals for the first time. "Not just for the students and the university -- it's great for soccer and soccer fans in the Washington, D.C., area. It's long overdue for a game of this magnitude to be played in this area."

Evansville (21-0-2), ranked No. 1 in the final poll, will host UCLA (18-1-4) in the other semifinal Sunday.

Factors contributing to the decision included playing conditions and potential gate receipts.

Hartwick's field, in Oneonta, N.Y., became nearly unplayable following the Warriors' 1-0 victory over Boston University. "It was like the drought we had for three years ended this week," said Hartwick Coach Jim Lennox. "Like the Biblical flood. In our game with Boston U. we trashed the field. It would be detrimental to both teams to play on it."

Also, in the middle of last week an inch of snow had to be cleared from Hartwick's field. "I think the weather, and the assertion and promise to make better preparation than we had for the George Mason game made a difference," Mehlert said.

American had 3,600 fans, most of whom stood around the edges of the field, for its 3-1 victory over George Mason in the second round of the tournament. The university, expecting a larger crowd, will install temporary bleachers. Tickets for the game go on sale today.

"I think we gave the NCAA the notion that Washington will give more visibility to the tournament," said Mehlert.

Oneonta may have been a colder, less populous site, but few other places have as rich a soccer tradition. Hartwick won the national title in 1977 and has been among the final four teams five times in the last 10 years. The national soccer hall of fame is located in Oneonta.

"Hartwick is synonymous with good soccer and tradition," Mehlert said. "Next to St. Louis they've had more appearances and success in the NCAA tournament than anybody else."

Hartwick won, 2-1, the last time the teams met, in the 1983 Mayor's Cup Tournament in Oneonta.

On offense, Hartwick is led by sophomore Mark Mettrick, who has scored 13 goals despite being bothered most of the season with a groin pull. The Warriors' second-leading scorer is stopper Carl Rees, who has nine goals and three assists. Rees, one of the top defenders in the country, could be marking the Eagles' all-America striker, Michael Brady.

Hartwick's only losses came against Alabama A&M early in the season and to its bitter rival, Long Island University. The tie came against Columbia in the season opener.