Argentina's national soccer team is missing several of its famous players for today's friendly match against the United States at RFK Stadium. But for U.S. Coach Bruce Arena and his players, it doesn't matter who is wearing the famed blue and white uniforms.
"Argentina has such a great tradition and pride," Arena said, "whatever 11 players are on the field representing Argentina is going to be an outstanding team. . . . It's Argentina, and our players know what the significance is of beating them."
Beating Argentina, before an anticipated crowd of about 40,000, would mark another major accomplishment during Arena's U.S. national team tenure, which began less than eight months ago. The former D.C. United coach has a 3-1-2 record, highlighted by a 3-0 rout of world power Germany in Jacksonville, Fla., in February.
Like Germany, Argentina did not bring its most powerful lineup, but with four professional players from Serie A in Italy and four others from La Liga in Spain, there is no doubting their credentials. It would be the equivalent of an NBA Dream Team going on tour with Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant instead of Karl Malone and Allen Iverson -- only a marginal drop in talent and stardom.
Among the absent Argentines are legendary striker Gabriel Batistuta, high-scoring forwards Hernan Crespo and Claudio Lopez and midfield standouts Juan Sebastian Veron and Fernando Redondo. All are either resting, injured or with their European clubs. Flashy midfielder-forward Ariel Ortega made the trip, but will not play because of what he is saying is a leg injury.
Three starters from the 1998 World Cup squad that advanced to the quarterfinals are here: defender Roberto Ayala (AC Milan), defender-midfielder Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan) and midfielder Diego Simeone, who was sold to Lazio of Rome from Inter Milan last week for $11.3 million.
Other standouts include midfielder Andres Guglielminpietro, an emerging star at AC Milan, and forward Gustavo Lopez, of Real Zaragoza in Spain, who scored in Argentina's 2-2 tie with Mexico Wednesday before 64,433 at Chicago's Soldier Field.
Argentina is using this brief trip to prepare for Copa America, the prestigious South American championships that begin June 29 in Paraguay.
Although today's match is an exhibition, a loss to the Americans would not go over very well at home. Four years ago, in a Uruguayan town near the Argentine border, the United States shocked Argentina, 3-0, in the first round of Copa America -- one of the biggest victories in U.S. soccer history.
At a news conference yesterday, Argentina Coach Marcelo Bielsa praised the Americans for their recent victory over Germany and said: "We're not going to underestimate the United States."
Arena said that in order to meet the 18-player limit, young forwards Landon Donovan and Chris Albright, and D.C. United defender Carlos Llamosa, who's recovering from a sprained ankle, will not be in uniform.
Notes: U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, whose contract with Leicester City in England has expired, said he was on the verge of signing with Wimbledon recently, but the deal fell through. He said his preference is to play in Italy or Spain, though he would consider re-signing with Leicester. . . . The U.S. opponent today initially was going to be Iran, but negotiations stalled in April and Argentina was selected. However, the U.S. and Iranian federations have made significant progress and a deal to play on Jan. 16 in Southern California may be completed next month.
Staff writer William Gildea contributed to this report.
United States vs. Argentina
Where: RFK Stadium.
When: 1 p.m.
TV: WJLA-7, WMAR-2.
Radio: WACA-1540 (Spanish).
Tickets: Available, $18, $25, $32, $45.
Of Note: Fearing long lines at the stadium, game organizers are urging fans who have tickets at the will call windows to arrive early. Parking lots also may get backed up. Will call windows open at 10 a.m. Gates open at 11:30.
U.S. Probable Starters: GK -- Kasey Keller (Club: Leicester City, England); D -- C.J. Brown (Chicago, MLS), Robin Fraser (Los Angeles, MLS), Jeff Agoos (D.C. United, MLS); MF -- Chris Armas (Chicago), Tony Sanneh (Hertha Berlin, Germany), Eddie Lewis (San Jose, MLS), Claudio Reyna (Glasgow Rangers, Scotland), Jovan Kirovski (Fortuna Cologne, Germany); F -- Cobi Jones (Los Angeles, MLS), Ernie Stewart (NAC Breda, Netherlands).
Argentina Probable Starters: GK -- German Burgos (River Plate); D -- Roberto Ayala (AC Milan, Italy), Hugo Ibarra (Boca Juniors), Mauricio Pochettino (Espanyol, Spain), Nelson Vivas (Arsenal, England); MF -- Javier Zanetti (Inter Milan), Diego Simeone (Lazio, Italy), Cristian Gonzalez (Real Zaragoza, Spain); F -- Julio Cruz (Feyenoord, Netherlands), Gustavo Lopez (Real Zaragoza), Fernando Pandolfi (Velez Sarsfield).