… it sure as hell is one they better win.
Gone are the days where the United States can simply rely on digging out a point or two on the road and trouncing opponents in its home qualifiers in order to reach the World Cup in South Africa next year.
Entering tonight’s 8th round of matches in the 10-match cycle, the US sit in second place, even with Honduras on points (13) but behind them on goal differential (7 to 4). Mexico and Costa Rica sit in the next two spots, both on 12 points, but Mexico have a goal differential of 2, while Costa Rica are struggling at -3.
The US plays at Trinidad and Tobago tonight (ESPN Classic, 7 p.m.), in what would figure to be the easier of a two-match road stretch that will see the Americans in Honduras on October 10. Qualifying then wraps up with the USA returning to RFK Stadium in Washington for the finale vs. Costa Rica on Oct. 14.
Having back-to-back road matches at this point in the cycle is difficult enough. And while the US figures to get a break tonight since both Mexico and Honduras can’t get 3 points – that factor will do the Americans little good if they don’t collect three points themselves. Ideally, the US gets a win tonight and, as much as I almost hate to even type it … Mexico beats Honduras. Mexico is hosting, so you would figure on that being the most likely result. It’s not like the USA is the only nation that has struggled there over the years.
Such an outcome, with Costa Rica facing a tricky match tonight at El Salvador, could leave the USA in much better shape by night’s end than the current standings we are all worried about now. A win at Honduras next month would render the final match vs. Costa Rica meaningless in terms of the top three, should there not be any other upsets.
But it’s not as easy as the USA simply showing up and claiming their treasure. Coach Bob Bradley must present a lineup that has attacking on its mind and is hellbent for not only getting the first goal, but the second, as well. Sitting back, not determining the tempo of the game, and breathing any life into T&T as their qualification chances sit on life support would be foolish.
It will help to get Oguchi Onyewu back at defense, and it will be interesting to see how Bradley handles the Bornstein issue after his oddball play trying to clear a ball vs. El Salvador on Saturday led to the visitors notching the opening goal. I thought we saw a good fight back from the USA in that instance, and that mentality to get on the attack and try to find the net with some urgency is a mindset that needs to be repeated tonight.
This is no time to seek a single point on the road, or to play conservatively. Qualifying is the most important thing, but getting it done for sure as soon as possible is the next best possible outcome. There’s no reason in my mind for the USA not to go for it tonight, and we’ll see if the lineup suggests that and if their play in the early going dictates such an approach.