Monday, June 21, 2004


Next stop: Kingston

The United States National Team sloghed their way into the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying with a 3-2 victory over Grenada in St. George's to win the series 6-2 on aggregate. It was not pretty at ALL, but the job was completed and now Bruce Arena and the boys can begin focusing on their next opponent, the Reggae Boyz of Jamaica. Their opening tilt on August 18th will set the tone for the group, from which both sides are expected to advance. Some thoughts from yesterday's game and on the adventure ahead in CONCACAF:

* VERY typical road qualifier. The pitch was lousy, the reffing was haphazard at best and corruptible at worst. We played sluggish and the weather made it difficult to play our style of game. That said, we got the job done! We overcame the penalty kick and the cards and the weather to get a result. Granted, this was Grenada and not a team like Costa Rica or Mexico, but the match was very good education for some of our neophytes (Gibbs, Mastroeni, Convey, Donovan, Beasley). We will move forward form this match having learned a few things that can be used in the match in Kingston in two months and the dens of Panama City and San Salvador later on in this round.

* Good peformances from Armas (this was his type of game), Wolff, Donovan, and Beasley. Thought Reyna was out of his element due to the weather. The defense in general bit badly (ESPECIALLY Mastroeni, who was to blame for both goals), but this game was more about learning how to play on the road in CONCACAF than about keeping a clean sheet. Gibbs stepped up when he took over marking Roberts (Mastro got thumped worse yesterday than Pope did last week by the England-based striker). Convey showed yesterday that he is not yet at the level needed to play left back on the international level (got beat down the side on the second goal), which means we will need to use a more-defensive option on that side to contend with the speed of our opponents (but we have always played an unbalanced style under Bruce).

* Group A (USA, Jamaica, El Salvador, Panama) should run pretty true-to-form. The US SHOULD have somewhat smooth sailing after their opener against Jamaica and will probably win the group. The Reggae Boyz need to win that first game and then find points at El Salvador and/or Panama to be in position to advance before the final qualifier against the Americans in November. El Salvador and Panama are pretty much in the same boat in that they need to defend their home turf and try to outright steal their road match against the other to put any pressure on the giants of the group.

* Group B (Canada, Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala) is an absolute mess waiting to happen. The quintessential group of death in this region without a doubt. All four of these teams could with the right set of results find their way to Germany in that they CAN win the playoff series against whoever their opponent from Asia would be. Costa Rica and Canada are probably the most-stable sides in this group heading into the round and would advance if this were a round-robin at a neutral site, but it's not. Canada needs to take advantage of being home for the first two matches and get all six points from them heading into the Matchday 3 tilt against Costa Rica. With Saprissa out of the rotation for qualifers due to having FieldTurf, Les Rouges could very well get a point or three from the Ticos in Alajuela because they are, pound-for-pound, one of only three teams in the region with enough talent to beat Costa Rica when the crowd is not a factor (the others being the US and Mexico). Costa Rica's way of advancing is by getting a result at Honduras and staving off the scare they WILL get from Canada at home. Guatemala needs to play the classic style for qualfying (win at home, draw on the road) and hope for some help along the way. The Catrachos will have to be the most aggressive road side in this group, because they WILL drop points at home.

* Group C (Mexico, Trinidad/Tobago, St. Kitts/Nevis, St. Vincent/Grenadines) will be a walk in the park for El Tri. Trinidad and Tobago are the only team that could conceivably take points from Mexico, and that would be if our friends to the south decide to laze their way through that Matchday 3 fixture in Port-of-Spain. The Soca Warriors will be the second team through in this group with the other two sides playing for the third spot and whatever advantage that might bring for 2010 qualifying.

* The obligatory slam on USSF for its placement of qualifiers. Yes, I understand we need to have consideration for the European-based players in the pool and that is why most of the home qualifiers are on the East coast. And yes, I know that the luck of the draw didn't provide us with a one-off match against either of the lesser teams in our group, where perhaps we could have placed the match in a less-convenient locale for the opposition and gone with a domestic-based roster. But WHY must we hand over home-field advantage to our opponents? Placing the El Salvador match in Foxboro on a holiday weekend is just STUPID! And Panama in RFK, which has proven itself INCAPABLE of providing our team a pro-US environment in which to play? At least Frank Yallop has the right idea with his matches, playing Guatemala in Vancouver and Honduras in Edmonton, far away from their natural fan bases in the United States. Their match in Montreal, versus Costa Rica, is significantly away from its base of support and is placed there due to consideration for their European-based players (it's the second match of the October pair and would allow his playes to be available for Satuday tilts across the pond). The RFK disaster in 2001 nearly cost us a trip to Korea/Japan, and some day we WILL miss the World Cup because of bad site management on the part of the USSF.
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