He was the top goal scorer in MLS at week's end, the kind of
experienced sniper the national team could use after getting only
one goal in three games at the recent Confederations Cup. So why
is the Chicago Fire's Ante Razov missing from the 18-man U.S.
roster for the upcoming Gold Cup? That question only became more
puzzling last Saturday after Razov's magnificent game-winner (his
sixth goal in the Fire's last four matches) gave Chicago a 2-1
home victory over the MetroStars and first place in the Eastern
U.S. coach Bruce Arena surely was watching the nationally
televised game when Razov turned around rookie defender Kenny
Arena--yep, Bruce's son--before sending a 20-yard leftfooted
laser past goalkeeper Tim Howard. No matter. Said Bruce Almighty
last week, "The four forwards on the [Gold Cup] roster"--Landon
Donovan, Brian McBride, Clint Mathis and Josh Wolff--"have done
enough to be there. Ante's on our radar screen, and I'm sure
he'll have his opportunity at some point. Let's face it, we don't
have any strikers who have particularly stood out of late."
True, but based on recent form the 29-year-old Razov, whose nine
goals for the season led the league by two, deserves a look ahead
of Wolff (two goals in eight games for the Kansas City Wizards).
Though Wolff is faster and three years younger, Razov's lethal
left foot and solid scoring rate in previous appearances with the
national team--six goals in 22 games--are reason enough to give
him another shot. Not that Razov is kvetching. "I'm not bitter
about anything," he says. "I'm having fun and doing well."
Indeed, over the past month Razov and rookie Damani Ralph have
become the most dangerous duo in MLS. Last Saturday the Ra-Ra
Boys struck the net in the same game for the fourth straight
outing, an unprecedented feat in the league's eight-year history.
"I'll talk to him a lot about things, like playing with fewer
touches in the middle of the field so he doesn't get beat up,"
Razov says of Ralph, a Jamaican who was a second-round pick out
of Connecticut and is the early favorite for MLS Rookie of the
Year. "He's trusting what I tell him."
The wise-elder role is a new one for Razov, but it was essential
after Chicago blew up its roster in the off-season. Needing to
jettison $1 million in salaries to reach the MLS limit of $1.7
million per team, new coach Dave Sarachan dealt four key
contributors: forwards Wolff and Hristo Stoitchkov and
midfielders Dema Kovalenko and Peter Nowak. "I felt like they
gave me a crash helmet and said, 'Good luck,'" Sarachan says.
"There were key players I needed to have on board, and Ante was
one of them." The two had met on the national team--it was
Sarachan, Arena's former assistant, who last year had to tell
Razov that he didn't make the World Cup roster--and now Sarachan
was asking him to be a leader.
If that includes winning his first MLS scoring title, then that's
fine with the Fire. You'd think foes would realize Razov's right
foot is as vestigial as a curmudgeon's smile, but there he was
again on Saturday, faking right and then cutting left on his
winning strike. "Force him right!" one Chicago teammate mockingly
screamed at the Dallas Burn last month after Razov scored on a
lefty blast. "Do you not know?" It's a shame Razov won't be in
position to inflict similar damage at the Gold Cup.
COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Razov lifted the Fire into first by burning Arena for his MLS-leading ninth goal.
For the U.S. women's team the biggest difference between this
year's World Cup and the two previous editions is simple: There's
no six-month residency before the tournament. Because the WUSA
season lasts through August, the American players won't train
together until three weeks before their Sept. 21 Cup opener,
meaning that nearly every other team in the field of 16 will have
worked together longer than the defending champs.
Will those nations gain an edge in cohesiveness over the U.S.? Or
will the weekly competition in the WUSA keep the Yanks sharper?
While lauding the league's long-term benefits, U.S. coach April
Heinrichs says, "The rest of the world is celebrating that we're
not in residency. [It's] the best program ever invented by the