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U.S. men to play first World Cup qualifier in Tampa

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Associated Press
CHICAGO -- For the U.S. men's soccer team, the road to the 2014 World Cup in Rio de Janeiro begins in Florida.
U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that Raymond James Stadium in Tampa will be the site of its first qualifier, June 8 against Antigua and Barbuda. It will be the first World Cup qualifier in Florida since November 1980, when the Americans beat Mexico 2-1 in Fort Lauderdale.
The Americans, trying to qualify for their seventh straight trip to soccer's championship, have never played Antigua and Barbuda.
"Our focus since last summer has been to prepare this team for World Cup qualifying, and we are thrilled that we can start the process in Tampa," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It's critical that we start qualifying off on the right foot, so to be in a place where the team has had such great support is a huge positive for us. The players always talk about how great the surface is at Raymond James Stadium, so overall we think it is the ideal venue."
The U.S. is 3-2-1 in Tampa, including a 3-1 victory over Ecuador in 2007, when 31,547 fans saw Landon Donovan score a hat trick. Tampa also hosted the U.S. Under-23 team in qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, with the Americans going 2-0-1 against Cuba, Honduras and Panama.
The Americans also play at Guatemala in World Cup qualifying on June 12. After the summer break, the U.S. plays at Jamaica on Sept. 7, then hosts the Reggae Boyz four days later. In the final games of the regional semifinals, the Americans are at Antigua on Oct. 12 and close Group A at home against Guatemala on Oct. 16.
The top two teams from each of three groups advance to the 2013 regional finals in North and Central America and the Caribbean. The first three teams will qualify for the 2014 tournament in Brazil, and the fourth-place team goes to a home-and-home playoff against the Oceania champion -- likely New Zealand -- for another berth.
Group B has Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guyana and Mexico, and Group C includes Canada, Cuba, Honduras and Panama.
As part of the Americans' preparations for qualifying, U.S. Soccer also announced Wednesday that the Americans will face Scotland in an exhibition May 26 in Jacksonville, Fla. The U.S. also will host Brazil on May 30 in Landover, Md., and play at Canada on June 3.
Story tags » SoccerSoccer World Cup

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