So, coaches will always say that they never look ahead the current opponent and that’s all they are focusing on. And USMNT coach Bob Bradley should be doing just that with the trip to Trinidad & Tobago coming up on Wednesday.
With the current mosh pit at the top of the group in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the US cannot afford to look past Wednesday’s match.
But I can. I’m not playing in it, I’m not coaching it, so I can have some fun.
Currently, the US and Honduras lead the way on 13 points, with Mexico and Costa Rica sitting on 12. It’s pretty much safe now to write off El Salvador and T&T, who are in the spoiler’s role.
We have hoped, and I dare say even expected, that the US would have a World Cup bid sewn up prior to October 14 – the day it hosts Costa Rica at RFK Stadium in the 10th and final match of the round. And if the US wins Wednesday, then wins in Honduras in the ninth match, and Honduras loses to Mexico Wednesday – then the US will be fine.
But these next two matches are on the road and this being CONCACAF, there’s always the chance for chaos. No results or points are guaranteed.
So, what if something goes wrong? A win Wednesday is marred by a red card to a key player, causing him to miss the match at Honduras – which results in a loss on October 10.
What if the US finds itself at RFK four days later needing a win (or even a tie, but work with me) to qualify? The already itchy trigger-fingers of US fans waiting by their keyboards to blast Bradley or the formation or the stadium or the USSF, what have you, would have to deal with four days of what might be summed up as sporting hell, knowing one bad call, one bad bounce, one brain-fart by a US player could end the 2010 dream.
It may sound as if I’m rooting for this final-game scenario. I’m not. I still think the US will have it wrapped up by then.
But if they don’t, we are going to see something the likes of which we haven’t before. Yes, I know about the match in Trinidad that got the US into the ’90 World Cup – but that was a match played almost in entire anonymity. Now, we have ESPN providing coverage of the US match in Mexico – which they weren’t even broadcasting!
You have multiple networks in this country who have made big commitments to showing the sport, and you have a push on now to bring the World Cup back to the US in the coming years.
A do-or-die situation for the US in the final game wouldn’t happen in anonymity. The world would be watching – but beyond that, the country would be watching, many perhaps for the first time. The buildup for it would be almost obnoxious. And the players and coach would be under pressure they haven’t faced. Sure, there was the 2002 quarterfinal vs. Germany – but the US had nothing to lose in that match. They were already on house money by beating Mexico. Any pressure in ’06 went by the boards immediately with the lopsided loss to the Czech Republic. Playing in the Confederations Cup final was a nice accomplishment, but it wasn’t a World Cup – it’s just not the same magnitude.
It seems like many people, and media, are a bit more accepting of the sport. They may not even like it – but if there’s newsworthy material coming from the US, it gets covered. Somewhere, in the back of their minds, all these folks are coming around perhaps based on an expectation of the US being in the 2010 World Cup. It would be the nation’s sixth straight appearance – the fifth they had qualified for (1994 being the exception).
It’s a valid expectation. We’re supposed to finally have the talent and the skill to make the World Cup – no questions asked. Were it to come down to one game where all of that is put on the line, and the US must get a win to fulfill those expectations, it’s fair to wonder how those involved, and those in the stands, would handle it. It would be a well-watched game, I’m sure, but it’s more important than ratings.
The US enters these final three matches trying to do two things:
2) Qualify quickly enough that the last match on October 14 is meaningless.
Given how the schedule breaks down the rest of the way, you wouldn’t expect this scenario to happen, and you certainly wouldn’t expect the US to miss out. But if they do, and if it comes in some sort of heartbreaking loss in the final game vs. Costa Rica – there’s going to be much more damage done than simply missing a World Cup.
And while the entire experience of having that last match be meaningful is one that I would find absolutely fascinating, I hope the US does enough in these next two matches to make the whole idea moot.