Looking ahead for the USMNT … what if?

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:

1) Qualify.
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.

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11 thoughts on “Looking ahead for the USMNT … what if?

  1. I’ll prefer to wallow in the comfortable denial that the U.S. is guaranteed to qualify for South Africa, thank you very much!

  2. you generally make a good point, but its more complicated than you realize. at this point, the U.S. has almost qualified itself at least for the fourth spot (they haven’t yet but its possible they could lose 3 straight and still finish 4th). So if there is a lot on the line for the last game, it would mainly be the difference between the playoff with south america or automatically qualifying. although we would be underdogs in a playoff with a south american team, we would still have a chance. so the chances of the costa rica match at this point of having a potential consequence of not qualifying are close to zero at this point

    which along with your point would hurt ratings a little, because the matchup wouldn’t be a do or die game, it would be like a do or maybe die later game

  3. Dude, seriously… qualifying directly to the world cup is a do or die, no one, not even Mexico wants to end up in fourth place…. becuase they will “die” later…. Playing in South America is different than CONCACAF.

    The U.S. has zero experience in South America. The last Copa America doesn’t even count, they brought a B team and crashed out. No U.S. player will have that South American or copa libertadores experience. SO its better they secure a top three finish….

    which is what I think the post was about.

    concacaf is so exciting right now!!!

  4. This year especially, I want no part of the US playing in that 2-leg playoff – not given the at least somewhat of a possibility that Argentina would be waiting.

    On the other hand, the thought of everything going haywire and that 2-leg playoff being contested between Mexico and Argentina – now that would be fun to watch.

  5. I agree with the last couple posters. I would rather face England, Germany, and Spain all in their respective countries at their preferred stadia than have to play a double leg with Argentina. Yes, there’s the home leg, but we couldn’t beat them at home in a friendly (and it was a spectacular effort! I enjoyed every second of that game), and I have to think they’d be far more dangerous with some actual motivation. Regardless of how bad Diego Maradona has f*cked them up, their talent is better than ours by a couple hundred thousand miles. There is about a 6% chance we could beat them.

  6. you’re probably right in that we would be the underdogs against a south american team. but a main point of this post is how these games would appeal to casual soccer fans or non-soccer fans. i think if you can technically accurately say to someone that “this is a do-or-die game”, then it will increase interest. If we had to say “well its not technically a do-or-die game but it kind of is because we’d be underdogs in the further playoffs”, that”s not going to capture the attention of the non-soccer fans like the former would

  7. Based on recent results (and expected results of Mexico and Costa Rica taking care of T&T and El Salvador, and Mexico beating Honduras at home), the only way that the US gets in the Top 3, with the Costa Rican game being meaningless, is if we win in Honduras and T&T.

    Look it up:

    http://www.mediotiempo.com/multimedi…dores&cual=408

    Honduras’ thrashing of Costa Rica and T&T puts them up on goal differential.

  8. If Honduras loses in Mexico, as they should, and US wins at T&T, as they should, all we need are ties against Honduras on the road and Costa Rica at home. Here’s why:
    With H loss and US win, after that round, US has 16 pts, Honduras stays at 13. After next round, with US-Honduras tie, US has 17, Honduras 14. If US ties Costa Rica, doesn’t matter what Honduras does at El Salvador, they can’t reach our 18 and are out.

    Mexico, probably wins out if they beat Honduras, taking the group with 21.

  9. what a difference a month makes. Costa Rica was comfortably in first, Mexico in shambles and The US and Honduras holding on to the two other secure spots.

    Now since CR decided to mail in the last two games, Mexico remembering it can actually play, a couple of irregular performances by the US, and Honduras getting cocky it’s all wide open. The next month is going to be interesting.

    Mexico has 2 games at Azteca, which are almost guaranteed wins, and a game against T&T. If things get hairy for them in the games at Azteca they can always remind their boy Warner how they laid down and played dead in the last games of the 2006 qualifiers to let T&T in and ask for a return of the favor.

    Now we’ll see which team crashes and burns and earns the enviable task of playing either Colombia, Ecuador or Argentina.

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