Wednesday, September 09, 2009

No choice

The national team travels to a place familiar to American prospects of getting to the World Cup. 1989 sounded the Shot Heart Round the World. 2005 kicked off the United States' most successful final round of qualifying, first place the Hexagonal for the first time.

A win on Matchday Eight at Hasely Crawford Stadium doesn't secure a berth. And on the current run of form, the US doesn't appear to be in danger of grabbing the top spot in CONCACAF anyways.

And an away win isn't even assured. The US has won only three times away from home in this qualification cycle, and against countries that rate even less in global recognition and reputation than the Americans, and not once in the final round. Which has little to do with the US; of 21 Hexagonal matches, the away team has won only twice.

Given the choice, the US would field an experimental lineup and look towards South Africa. But today, the US has no choice. The US sits perilously on a one-point cushion propping up second place. Fourth place in the six-team tournament faces (and with Argentina looming, may very well lose to) a South American nation for the 32nd spot in 2010. No team in CONCACAF is looking forward to that.

The United States needs this game. Confederation dark horses Costa Rica and Honduras loom in the distance of the final two matches of qualifying. Honduras leads the group. Costa Rica is in fourth and desperately wants to play hot potato with the CONCACAF-CONMEBOL playoff. And Mexico has a good chance of winning out.

If only the US had the sort of confidence to get nine out of nine possible remaining points. Certainly its supporters, by and large, do not feel any such confidence is deserved.

But this is the easiest game of the three. The last steps toward qualification must start in Trinidad and Tobago, and it must start tonight.

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