It's U.S. soccer pride vs. British football pride, and to listen to the visiting team, it might as well be David wrestling with Goliath.
The congregation from the Sheffield Wednesday football club of England came to yesterday's news conference with an air of confidence befitting champions, which is just what they were in the Second Division of the English League last season.
Asked what the reaction would be at home if his team were defeated (i.e. embarrassed) by the American Professional Soccer League's Maryland Bays tonight at Cedar Lane Park (7:35), Sheffield coach Trevor Francis would only say "I can't say because we don't expect to be put in that position."
But there is one player in this exhibition who will be a winner whatever the outcome.
Midfielder John Harkes, a New Jersey native who played his college soccer at the University of Virginia, will be beginning his second season with Sheffield but still has his roots firmly ensconced in American soccer.
Harkes, who played for the U.S. World Cup team last year and is again expected to lead the team in the 1994 World Cup, is America's goodwill ambassador to England. He is the best we have to offer, and the otherwise skeptical British have readily accepted his determined style of play.
"It's not easy to accomplish what he has," said Kevin Sloan, who yesterday was named the Bays' Player of the Month for scoring five goals in six games. "He has opened a lot of doors for American players and it can only help our reputation throughout the world when the Cup comes here in 1994."
Harkes said the transition from playing in the APSL for Albany two seasons ago to the high-profile British league wasn't an easy one.
"You give up some of the luxuries of American life, but that goes with the territory," Harkes said. "Some players and fans made it tough on me at first and I had to show them I could play."
Harkes said once he settled into the lifestyle and the style of play, he didn't get any extra attention during his first season.
"Everybody cheap shots everybody over there," Harkes said. "Being an American has nothing to do with it."
Tonight is the first of a two-game American tour for Sheffield, which will play the U.S. National team Friday night in Philadelphia. The Bays have three members of the U.S. team on their roster -- Desmond Armstrong, Bruce Murray and Jeff Agoos -- but only Agoos will play tonight.
"Bruce Murray will get the opportunity to play against Sheffield Friday night," said Bays coach Gary Hindley.
In American terms, this tour would be similar to an NFL team going to Great Britain to face one of the top club teams during early preseason in July. Sheffield is still looking at players on its roster, trying to make the right selections for its regular season, which begins Aug. 17.
Hindley would make no predictions about the outcome of tonight's game.
"We are going to go after them as hard as we can," Hindley said. "But it's also a testing ground for us, to see how far we've come in America and in the APSL."
Defender Rob Ryerson, who has been out all season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery, will make his first start tonight.
Jean Harbor, the Bays' leading scorer with 12 goals, will attempt to impress U.S. National team officials in hopes of earning a position with the club.