US bids for World Cup soccer; English a dazzling Nugget; NCAA basketball

The thought of the United States hosting the World Cup soccer tournament may strike many as odd. Americans have never exhibited much of an appetite for soccer, and most have never seen, heard, or read about the US national team.

Even so, there's a good chance the 1986 World Cup will land in this country. The sport's international governing body, Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), must find a replacement for Colombia, which bowed out as the host. The Colombians, awarded the '86 tournament in 1974, didn't feel they could accommodate this quadrennial event now that the field has been enlarged from 16 to 24 teams.

Brazil was a logical choice to step in for Colombia, since it is a soccer-minded country that has successfully hosted this spectacle before. For economic reasons, however, the Brazilian government could not pledge its support to the '86 matches, thus eliminating Brazil from consideration.

That leaves three countries - the US, Canada, and Mexico - with the selection expected May 19 during FIFA's meeting in Stockholm.

As the 1970 host, Mexico already has 10 soccer stadiums that meet international specifications, but awarding the World Cup to either Canada or the US might stimulate soccer interest where the pro game is in decline.

The US has the advantage of a larger population, and Gene Edwards, president of the US Soccer Federation, calls the United States a ''big events country. There is no greater sports stage on earth. . . .''

In bidding for the World Cup, the USSF put together a 92-page presentation that projects a minimum of $40 million in gate revenue for the month-long, 52 -game playoff. The report estimates crowds of 35,000 to 50,000 for first-round games, which would be far better than current North American Soccer League turnouts. Cup matches, of course, would attract a large international following and possibly thousands of the 1.2 million American youngsters who now are registered USSF players.

The increased visibility of the national team, through participation in the NASL as Team America, may further stimulate interest in the game. And as the host country for next summer's Los Angeles Olympics, the US will automatically qualify for the soccer competition, which has not included an American team in recent years.

If the US is awarded the World Cup, games would be divided into six regions, with 14 stadiums utilized from New York and Miami in the East to Los Angeles and Seattle in the West. Because FIFA requires natural grass fields and 68 x 110 meter playing surfaces, some alterations would be necessary. Basketball sharpshooter

San Antonio's George Gervin has been the National Basketball Association's scoring king four of the last five seasons, but now the league is getting an English lesson. That's right, Denver's Alex English leads all scorers with a 28 .7 point average, and probably will maintain his comfortable margin over Gervin, who's been depositing 26.9 a game.

English has kind of snuck up on people. He entered the NBA with the Milwaukee Bucks during the 1976-77 season and averaged only 5.2 points as a rookie. But he has improved on that every year. His potential began to surface with Indiana five years ago, when he first cracked double digits. It has been further exploited by Denver, which runs the league's highest octane offense. The Nuggets push the ball up court faster than any other team, then go to a free-lance passing game if the fast break doesn't produce a shot.

English, a graceful 6 ft. 7 in. forward out of South Carolina, knows how to get into the flow. Since he has published a book of poems, some might say he is poetry in motion. ''Basketball is so creative,'' he says. ''I'll never get bored with it. It's like being a ballet dancer.'' Doug Moe, the Nuggets coach, says Alex probably has the ideal disposition for the sport. ''He has a passiveness to where he doesn't get angry, yet he still has a competitiveness that is unusual.'' Two of a kind in NCAA tourney

The NCAA basketball tournament did not produce any stop-the-world upsets in its early rounds. What it has spit out, however, are a pair of Cinderella teams in North Carolina State and Utah. Unfortunately for underdog lovers, they square off tonight in a West Regional semifinal game in Ogden, Utah.

The Utes, of course, should feel at home there with a highly partisan crowd rooting them on. Utah entered the post-season with the worst record (16-13) of the 52 tournament teams, and NC State's was not all that much better (20-10).

To get where they are, the Utes beat Illinois, then sprang a big upset against UCLA. North Carolina State, meanwhile, survived two of the most exciting games in the tournament. The Wolfpack bumped off Pepperdine 69-67 in double overtime, and followed that with a 71-70 upset of Nevada-Las Vegas. Close finishes, though, are becoming old hat for the Carolinians, who came on to win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with a three-game run that consisted of a 71-70 victory over Wake Forest, a 91-84 overtime win against North Carolina, and a 81-78 triumph over Virginia.

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