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SOCCER: HOPEFULS MAKE CASE IN 1-1 TIE.

Byline: Daily News Staff and Wire Services

CARY, N.C. - Tony Meola got his 100th cap. Now he and the rest of the U.S. hopefuls must wait for Bruce Arena to choose the World Cup roster.

Meola, considered a World Cup long shot at best, on Tuesday became the ninth U.S. player to appear in 100 internationals, but Galaxy defender Chris Albright and veteran midfielder Ben Olsen made stronger cases for their inclusion in the 23-man Germany roster as the Americans and Jamaica played to a 1-1 draw at SAS Soccer Park.

Chivas USA midfielder John O'Brien made his first appearance since last August, and winger Steve Ralston - who scored the goal that nailed down the U.S.'s 2006 berth - limped off with a groin injury in his return to the national team following an injury layoff.

Olsen, who could make the roster if Arena desires insurance for oft-injured O'Brien and Claudio Reyna, scored in the 25th minute from Landon Donovan's U.S.-record 23rd career assist.

The goal answered a fourth-minute strike by Teafore Bennett, who raced past Frankie Hejduk to run onto Jermaine Hue's pass after Eddie Pope was caught forward after a U.S. corner kick.

Albright was badly beaten in the first half by Jamal Campbell-Ryce on the right flank, but he won the next showdown with the Jamaican forward and nearly scored twice on second-half headers from Donovan free kicks. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts tipped the first, in the 54th minute, over the crossbar, then lunged to stop another in the 75th.

"It's getting down to the nitty-gritty," said Albright, making his first national team appearance since suffering a knee injury in January. "I mean, obviously you enjoy playing the game, but everybody's thinking about making the team. I just tried to give it everything I had."

Arena plans to announce a 35-man preliminary roster today and whittle it to 23 on May 2. Rosters are due to FIFA on May 15.

"We were able to use this game as an opportunity to see some players," said Arena, who on Saturday said he had selected 18 players - and, if pressed, could decide on 21 - for the World Cup roster. "The part that I felt was valid was that we watched our players have to deal with coming from behind, being down a goal. I thought they responded pretty well, from the 25th-minute mark on. ... Tonight and the next three (weeks of Major League Soccer) games will certainly allow me to make some good decisions in terms of rounding out my roster."

Brian Ching, who played poorly in the Americans' loss last month in Germany but scored five goals in Houston Dynamo's first two MLS games, played the second half but had little opportunity to impress. Pat Noonan, back after an injury layoff, helped his cause.

O'Brien, a 2002 World Cup star who has endured three injury-plagued years, looked good; it appears certain he'll be in Germany.

"I thought O'Brien played very well," Arena said, "especially since that was probably his first playing time since September. That was very encouraging."

Arena also singled out Olsen, Albright, Noonan and certain starters Donovan and Pope, but he wouldn't say if anyone played themselves off the team, as Chris Klein appeared to do against Germany.

"I don't want to be too critical of the league," he said. "Some of our guys have lost fitness and sharpness since we saw them in February. ... Unfortunately for us, our domestic players need more time."

Meola, 37, the Americans' starting goalkeeper at the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and a backup four years ago, relished his first U.S. appearance since May 2002.

"If the national team left for Germany today, the goalkeepers would be Kasey (Keller), Marcus (Hahnemann) and Tim (Howard), but the team isn't leaving today," Meola said. "There's always a chance for me. I mean, a chance to go to my World Cup again. How would you feel?"
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 12, 2006
Words:660
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