THE Olympics and virtually every traveling world championship of any kind have been held on American soil at least once, and often numerous times.
The lone no-show has been soccer's crown jewel, the World Cup, and that absence will be rectified in summer 1994, when the United States plays host to arguably the globe's premier single-sport competition.
The International Soccer Federation awarded the World Cup to the US in 1988, and now American soccer officials are rushing toward a state of final readiness. The last major dress rehearsal is US Cup '93, a four-nation tournament now under way. It is spread among four of the nine cities that will host next year's 24-team tournament, which begins June 17 and concludes its 43 games on July 17.
This year's schedule for the four "venue" cities are:
June 9: Foxboro Stadium, Mass. - England vs. the US.
June 10: RFK Stadium, Washington - Brazil vs. Germany.
June 13: RFK Stadium, Washington - England vs. Brazil. Soldier's Field, Chicago - US vs. Germany.
June 19: Silverdome, Pontiac, Mich. - Germany vs. England.
(A fifth, nonvenue city, New Haven, Conn., was host to a US Cup match last weekend.)
The public sale of the remaining American tickets starts June 12 for the Chicago and Washington games.
AT Pontiac, the Silverdome will try out a natural grass field (laid over artificial turf) in anticipation of becoming the first indoor facility ever to stage a World Cup game. (World Cup rules specify grass-only fields, and also field dimensions that have required Foxboro Stadium to alter its seating to accommodate a slightly larger playing surface.)
Watching with great interest will be World Cup organizers in the other host cities: Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, Fla., and East Rutherford, N.J. (for the New York-New Jersey area).
ABC Sports, which owns the telecasting rights to the World Cup, is providing coverage of US Cup '93 (check local listings). ABC's coverage is commercial-free, at least during the two 45-minute halves of each match, because the network can't risk missing any goals.
Some might wonder what's to see. After all, the Americans entered the US Cup with just one victory in recent international competition.
Alan Rothenberg, president of the US Soccer Federation and the US World Cup organizing committee, claims not be worried by the Americans' record of 1 win, 4 losses, and 7 ties. He realizes the team is taking its knocks in order to be primed later, and in fact the US fared better than many expected during US Cup '92, when it rose to the occasion with victories over Ireland and Portugal and a tie against three-time world champion Italy.
As the host country in '94, the US is an automatic qualifier, as is Germany, the current champion.
At press time, Mexico, Greece, and Russia had also clinched berths.