Nothing else will be easy for the United States soccer team as it begins World Cup play against Germany on Monday, but at least the pregame pep talk poses no problem for coach Steve Sampson.

"That's the great thing about the World Cup. I won't have to motivate them," Sampson said. "If a player is still looking for motivation an hour or two before this match, there's nothing that I can say."So, Sampson's message will be simple and from the heart, just before the U.S. team steps onto the historic Parc des Princes fiel to make what could be a little history of its own.

"I believe in you. I'm confident in you. I trust the fact you're going to give 100 percent of yourselves," Sampson said, when asked what his speech would be. "What more do I need to say?"

In opening against Germany, the second-ranked team in the world, the United States will get a quick idea how the rest of the tournament will go.

If Sampson's new three-defender, six-midfielder, one-forward alignment can hold up against the relentless German attack, it will stand against any team.

"They need to win the game and they expect to win the game," said midfielder Claudio Reyna, the mainspring of the American offense and a player the Germans will mark closely. "The pressure is on them."

It should be. There are more than 6 million registered soccer players in Germany, and several hundred of them are good enough to earn consideration for the national team.

Coach Berti Vogts has selected a very talented, very experienced unit as Germany attempts to win its fourth Cup. The average age of the German players is just under 30 years.

If nothing else, the Germans will be tightly organized today and capable of sudden bursts of offense. Jurgen Klinsmann and Oliver Bierfhoof are expected to start at forward.

Sampson will probably direct his team to play a defensive first half in the hope of tiring the Germans and perhaps frustrating them. If that is the case, Roy Wegerle could be the starter at forward, although Eric Wynalda, the all-time U.S. scoring leader, would provide more of an offensive threat. Wynalda, who has played just one match since having knee surgery in April, is probably not fit enough to play a full 90 minutes.

"I have no intention of announcing our lineup before I have to an hour or two before the game," Sampson said. "And, as for the substitutions, a lot depends on what we need as the game goes on."

One advantage for the Americans may be the lack of respect the Germans accord them. Sampson likes to recount an incident at a February match in Brussels between the U.S. and Belgium.

Vogts, the German coach, attended the game to scout the United States team, but left with 20 minutes still remaining in the 2-0 U.S. loss.

"That shows a lack of respect," Sampson said. "In Europe, they have no respect for the United States. Frankly, we haven't earned it.

"But we have a great opportunity to prove how far we've progressed. The best way to do that is against great opposition."

Vogts has said the right things about the U.S. team recently, but could be forgiven a little overconfidence.

"We can't talk about small teams any more," Vogts said. "There are no small teams. The world of soccer is growing closer."

Monday will at least be a good guage of the progress made by the U.S. Since 1990, when the United States made the World Cup tournament for the first time in 40 years, the team has steadily improved.

It was three losses and done in 1990, then a good run to the second round in 1994. That success was followed by big wins in the Copa America in 1995 and a stunning 1-0 decision over Brazil earlier this year.

Now it's time to find out if the U.S. can even stay on the field with a world power when the biggest tournament of all is on the line.

Helmut Kohl doesn't thing so. The German chancellor visited Germany's training camp last week and predicted three straight first-round wins for Germany - selecting 3-1 over the United States, 2-1 over Yugoslavia and 2-0 over Iran. It should be noted that Kohl is running for re-election.

For the United States - fortunately - having a successful World Cup doesn't hinge entirely on beating Germany.

Two teams will advance from each first-round group to the single-elimination rounds that follow. Teams are awarded three points for a win and one point for a tie in the opening round-robin set of three matches.

If the U.S. tied Germany, it would probably also need to beat either Iran or Yugoslavia in order to advance.

But first things first.

"I believe this team is capable of getting a good result against Germany," Sampson said.

The players agree, but understand the magnitude of the task.

"They are just so disciplined from the beginning to the end. And if you give them space, they can play incredible soccer," said midfielder Tab Ramos. "That's why we've got to stay on them and be very tight defensively.

"I think we're a better team than we were in 1994, and I'm not sure they're better than they were. So, it's a good time to compare."

And a good setting as well:

The opening U.S. match of the World Cup. In Paris. Against Germany.

If the United States is to produce a historic day, great soccer will be required.

But not great pregame speeches.