Local and national soccer organizers are in the final stages of negotiations for RFK Stadium to host a U.S. national team World Cup qualifying match in the fall, sources close to the talks said yesterday.
The game is scheduled for Oct. 13, with Panama as the Americans' likely opponent.
The U.S. team will begin the regional qualifying process for the 2006 World Cup, to be hosted by Germany, on Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, against lightly regarded Grenada. The second game in the two-match, total-goals series is set for the Caribbean island nation on June 20.
If, as expected, the Americans advance, they will enter a four-nation, round-robin semifinal group and play six matches between August and November. The final round will be played in 2005.
The sites for two of the U.S. team's three semifinal home games have already been selected: Sept. 4 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., against El Salvador or Bermuda; and Nov. 17 in Columbus, vs. Jamaica or Haiti. That leaves the October match, probably against Panama, which will face St. Lucia in a two-game series this month.
RFK has hosted four World Cup qualifiers in recent years, with an average attendance of about 47,000. There was a 2-0 victory over Guatemala in 1996, a 1-1 tie with Jamaica in 1997, a 1-0 victory over Guatemala in 2000 and a 3-2 loss to Honduras in 2001, which ended the Americans' 16-year home winning streak in qualifying play.
In each of those games, the visiting team had a large number of fans in the stadium, but because Panama's immigrant population is much smaller than most Central American nations and some Caribbean countries, organizers are confident the U.S. team would have a strong home-field advantage.
D.C. United President Kevin Payne, who has had discussions with the U.S. Soccer Federation about the October match taking place in Washington, said he could not comment at this time. The USSF has said it is considering its options and will have an announcement in the coming weeks.
Soccer Notes: In preparation for Sunday's qualifier against the United States, Grenada has decided to set up training camp in Washington. The team will arrive today and be housed at Howard University. Practices will be held at undisclosed local fields, and a reception at the Grenada Embassy with Ambassador Denis Antoine has been scheduled for Wednesday.
The Spice Boyz, as the team is known, will depart for Columbus on Friday. Several hundred fans from the East Coast and Canada are planning to accompany the team to Ohio. Grenada is ranked 145th in the world by FIFA, the United States eighth.
The American squad is training outside Columbus this week and will move its camp to Long Island prior to the second leg of the series. . . .
Negotiations are close to being finalized for an exhibition between Bolivian club Bolivar and Aguila of El Salvador on July 24 at RFK, local organizers said. There's also a proposal for a tournament in Washington Aug. 20-22 featuring four prominent Latin American clubs, most notably Alianza of Peru.