David Nakhid still won't admit that any of the soccer games he's played for American University are as big as the ones he played in back home in Trinidad.
He says none qualify -- not any of the regular season games, not the Eagles' 3-1 victory over George Mason in the South Atlantic NCAA final, not their 2-0 quarterfinal victory last weekend at South Carolina.
Today's 1 p.m. NCAA semifinal between the Eagles (18-2-2) and perennial soccer power Hartwick (17-2-1) at American just may change his mind. "If we make the final," he said, "maybe it will be as big."
The winner of today's game will advance to the championship game a week from Sunday in Seattle's 65,000-seat Kingdome against the winner of Sunday's semifinal in Evansville, Ind., between UCLA (18-1-4) and Evansville (21-0-2).
The crowd on the AU campus will be a bit cozier and cooler than in Seattle's dome. Bob Frailey, American's athletic director, expects more than 4,000.
A crowd of 3,600 attended when the Eagles beat George Mason two weeks ago. The university has set up portable stands that can accommodate approximately 2,000 spectators. Although Frailey has set no limit, he is prepared to close the gate if Reeves Field becomes dangerously overcrowded.
Nakhid, a junior midfielder, says the crowds in Trinidad and the game's significance create a unique atmosphere.
"Here there is the same intensity and the same euphoria, but the game itself is not as big," Nakhid said.
Some of his American University teammates probably can testify to that. Barry Henderson, a wing, Troy Regis, a defenseman, and Duane Gonzalez, a reserve, all played with Nakhid at St. Mary's High School in Trinidad and all play for the same club team, Maple.
"Some of the crowds are as big as 7,000 or 8,000, and when we play for the national youth team, we can play before crowds of 20,000," Nakhid said.
American's success is due in part to how well the four Trinidadians play together.
"I know for sure what they're going to do, so I can be there to support them," Nakhid said. "Troy's job defensively is to keep their forwards from scoring. My job is to link the defense and the attack. And Barry's job is to serve the ball to the other forwards."
The most important of the forwards is Michael Brady. A two-time all-America, Brady has 24 goals and seven assists this season, including one of each in the quarterfinal victory over South Carolina. Nakhid is the second-leading scorer with 10 goals and three assists.
Unlike Nakhid, most of Hartwick's players have been in a game at least this big in this country. The Warriors start 10 players who saw service in last year's semifinal when Hartwick lost to Indiana, 2-1. While American has been in the NCAA tournament before (in 1978, 1979 and 1984), the Warriors have a long tradition of NCAA success.
Hartwick, a school of 1,400 in Oneonta, N.Y., won the national championship in 1977. This is the seventh time since 1970 the Warriors have reached the final four.
Unlike American, the Warriors' scoring is balanced. Midfielder Mark Mettrick (13 goals, four assists), stopper Carl Rees (nine goals, three assists), forward Paul Cushion (eight goals, three assists) and sweeper Iain Fraser (six goals, seven assists) all have made major contributions. After Nakhid, Steve Marland has four goals and three assists for American.
The teams have not played each other in three years. American lost to their only common opponent in 1985, William and Mary, 1-0. Hartwick beat the Indians, 3-1. When they played in 1984 in the Mayor's Cup in Oneonta, Hartwick won, 2-1. Most of the upperclassmen and Hartwick Coach Jim Lennox remember Brady.
"I remember he's a fun player to watch," Lennox said. "He's skillful and he works hard."