Considering it’s only the second set of qualifiers, this week’s action in CONCACAF could go a very long way in paving the road to South Africa for the USA and Mexico.
Let’s start with the USA.
El Salvador v. USA
Saturday 9 p.m., ESPN2/Telefutura
Bradley coaches ’em up
To use a strange metaphor, if the Mexican and US national teams were cars, I think the USA would be a Hyundai, and that Mexico would be an Alfa Romeo. Here’s why, Hyundai is a formerly crap brand from a place not known for car quality that now churns out workmanlike, competent, reliable cars that make their customers very happy while not exactly lighting the world up with panache and flair. Alfas are best known for being hugely stylish, massively passionate cars that inevitably burst into flames during a short drive.
The question for Bradley this week is can he keep this Hyundai pointed forwards even on some very bumpy, third-world roads. I suspect San Salvador will present an even greater road challenge than Guatemala City did in the first round (where the US won, 1-0). Howard is suspended, Onyewu will likely start, and the usual suspects are all in camp and ready to go. Ives desperately tries to stir up some selection questions in midfield, but who here really thinks that Bradley will deviate too much from the Mexico plan that worked in Columbus? I suspect he won’t, nor should he. The only real question mark is in goal, between Brad Guzan and Marcus Hahnemann. I hope Hahnemann gets the start, but really only because he’s been seeing more PT with Reading than Guzan has with Aston Villa.
El Salvador brings few names too familiar to US fans, but one that might bring some chuckles to the mouths of DC fans is big star of this team, Eliseo Quintanilla. Yes, the same Eliseo Quintanilla that scored seven goals in 32 appearances between 2003-2004 while looking undersized, slow, and unathletic. Fellow midfielder Dennis Alas saw some time last year on the USL2’s Real Maryland, but no Salvadorean player currently plays outside the country.
I’ll give the Salvadoreans credit for making it to the final round, something they haven’t done since 1998, but I doubt they’ll present too much of a problem for the USA. My prediction is that the Hyundai will keep rolling along with a 2-0 win.
Mexico v. Costa Rica
Saturday, 7 p.m., Telemundo
“He goes crazy” shouts the headline after Nery Castillo’s tirade at the press
We move now from the tranquility of the US to Camp Crisis in Mexico. Let’s start with Sven, as we always do. His rump remains firmly on the line, and probably is just one home loss away from heading back to England. Meanwhile, forward Nery Castillo flipped out at the Mexican media, rehashing the old “you can’t criticize us if you haven’t played the game” trope. John thinks that Nery’s blowup may have served as a pressure valve on the team and “galvanized them into a cohesive unit.” But look at a quote like this:
He’s not standing up for the club or even the country as a whole. Castillo is just using the Europe defense to shield himself from criticism for his dissapointing performances for Mexico. And considering he plays in Ukraine, that shield is made of very thin tin, indeed.
We’ll see how galvanized they are if Costa Rica can score first or put early pressure on Mexico. Right now, Mexico is so discombobulated top-to-botton and so badly coached by a guy not known for his rah-rah motivational skils, that this team folds at the first site of adversity.
The fans may be behind Nery, but the media is the problem, Mexico’s performances are. If Mexico were a club, especially if they were an MFL club, Sven would’ve been long gone by now, replaced by a louder, Spanish-speaking disciplinarian who would immediate command the players respect. If ever there was a team that called out for a Luis Aragones, it’s Mexico.
For Saturday, the Mexicans will miss Rafael Marquez, Carlos Vela and Carlos Salcido with suspensions and will hope Matias Vuoso finds Costa Rica as easy to score against as he did against Bolivia. Costa Rica meanwhile appears to be full of confidence with their manager already accusing Mexico of “lacking humility” and the air is ripe with comparisons to 2001, when Costa Rica won in the Azteca. I don’t think that will happen, but I do think the Ticos will park the bus in front of goal and stifle Mexico en route to a scoreless draw.
Trinidad and Tobago v. Honduras
Saturday, 9 p.m.
How much will David Suazo’s injury hurt the Hondurans’ chances of qualification?
The local media in Trinidad is reminding folks not to hit the panic button and rightly so. I think this match against the David Suazo-less Honduras is a great chance for three points. Without Suazo’s speed up top, the Hondurans will be relying on Tottenham’s Wilson Palacios and Toronto’s Amado Guevara to both create and possibly finish off attacks. T&T will be missing Dwight Yorke, but his suspension for referee abuse may allow for the torch to finally properly passed to Sunderland’s Kenwyn Jones, who surprisingly, only has four goals in seven Trinidad appearances. If Trinidad is going to qualify for their second-straight World Cup, they’ll get no better chance than Saturday to get the effort off to a good start. I predict a 2-1 win for Soca Warriors.