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SUDDENLY, U.S. PLAYERS ARE COMPLAINING

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A day after their first loss at this World Cup, U.S. soccer players sounded like so many other big-time athletes, whining and complaining.

The referee did them in.Their federation did them in.

Their coach did them in.

Well, at least they have a week before their next game.

"You have to get psyched up, mentally prepared and think about it's the challenge you've been waiting for all your lives," defender Paul Caligiuri said Monday, a day after the 1-0 defeat against Romania.

Germany's 3-2 victory over South Korea on Monday means the Americans have only two options: play Brazil or Sweden next Monday at Stanford Stadium or go home.

The odds are overwhelming that the Americans will advance, so much so that most players aren't even watching other games or trying to make sense of the mathematics.

"If you do that, I think you go crazy," forward Ernie Stewart said.

Added defender Alexi Lalas: "If we're going to rely on superstition and witch doctors and all that stuff, then we're in deep crap."

Lalas was among the players who complained that the U.S. Soccer Federation failed to inform the team about the tournament rule on yellow cards. John Harkes, who was given a yellow card against Switzerland, got another against Romania and will be suspended for the second round.

USSF executive director Hank Steinbrecher and team general manager Bill Nuttall both thought that a pair of first-round yellow cards received in separate games would be erased. FIFA told them after the game they were wrong.

"It's embarrassing, actually, to tell you the truth," Lalas said. "It's the rules of the game. It doesn't matter what your experience is or how many World Cups you played in, at the very least you should know the rules of the tournament you're in and we didn't."

Nuttall took the blame Monday. The USSF's appeal of the yellow card, given to Harkes by referee Mario Van der Ende of the Netherlands for not being 10 yards back on a free kick, was made after the deadline of one hour following the game and was denied by FIFA.

"The film clearly shows that Harkes and (Mike) Sorber hadn't moved from the spot the referee designated," Nuttall said.

Harkes, who threw up after the game because of a bout with flu, still was angry at Van der Ende on Monday

"I think it was embarrassing for the referee, really, to give me a yellow card," Harkes said.

He also was upset with the USSF for not telling the team about the rule.

"It should have been explained to the players and nothing was made clear to the players," Harkes said.

Eric Wynalda was the only American player Monday who said the yellow card rules had been made clear.

"He's the only one on the team I think who knows the rules," Harkes cracked.

Midfielder Tab Ramos, who said Sunday that the Americans should have played for a tie instead of attacking, took a shot at U.S. coach Bora Milutinovic on Monday.

"I'm frustrated," Ramos said. "I'd like to do more. I know I can."

In the past, Ramos has been a playmaker in the center of the field, but Mlutinovic has him on the right wing.

"Maybe that's why I got taken out," said Ramos, who was replaced by Cobi Jones midway through the second half. "I remember Bora yelling at me to stay wide. ... It's very difficult if you're on the sideline waiting for the ball to be creative."

Wynalda questioned Van der Ende's impartiality, saying the referee was shaking hands with Romania's players and patting them on the back.

"I don't know if they had any plans after the game, but it sure looked like it," Wynalda said.

Harkes and Marcelo Balboa said nothing should be made of their yelling at each other after the yellow card. Both agreed Balboa was trying to keep Harkes from getting into further trouble.

NOTES: Claudio Reyna, sidelined since June 8 with a pulled right hamstring, said he intended to resume practice Tuesday and he can play next Monday, but wasn't sure if he would be ready. Harkes' absence leaves an opening in midfield. "Maybe they'll want me to play in his position if I'm ready to play," Reyna said. ... The team probably will travel to Stanford on Friday.