Sunday, February 06, 2005


Matchday One: Get Off The Mark

The United States National Team kicks off the final round of World Cup Qualifying on Wednesday in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad against the Soca Warriors. The roster is attached at the bottom, but before that, keys to the Hex and this opening match:

Hexagonal points:

* IT'S A MARATHON, not a sprint! For all the high-pressure ties in the Hex (US/Mexico and US/Costa Rica to name a couple) which seem to project a life-or-death nature, the amount of error available to a team is much more in this round than it was in the semifinal round. A team that hit a hot stretch over Matches 1-3 might fall back to the pack by the time matches 7-10 are played in September/October (e.g. the US in 2001), whereas a team can struggle out of the gate and still find its way to Germany by the time all is said and done (e.g. Mexico in 2001 and the US in 1997).

* A team MUST take advantage of road points when and where they make themselves available (any trip to T&T or a midweek tilt at either CR or Mexico to state a couple of examples), because getting a draw from the host is in effect stealing two points from them.

* The home team MUST dictate play or else fall victim to being steamrolled on their home soil. Anyone who was at the US/Honduras match in DC in 2001 can attest to the fact that the opponent took it to us from the get-go. If the host lets its visitor bring the pace, they are likely to be trying to stave off a stealing of all the points rather than a splitting of the spoils.

* As in the semifinal round, group play can be broken down into a series of home-and-away battles, so that if you win more of those battles than you lose, you will advance. The United States went 2-0-3 in the series in the 2001 Hex (split with Mexico, Honduras, and Costa Rica while beating Jamaica and Trinidad/Tobago). We should win the series over T&T and Panama, thus making the Costa Rica/Mexico/Guatemala series a battle to avoid the playoff spot against the team from Asia.

US/T&T points:

* A tie is a good result considering the labor impasse which stole valuable training time from the team, but three points can be gotten. Port-of-Spain is the tamest road venue in the Hex and its occupant is perceived once again as the weak sister in the group. Every team in the Hex will be looking for points at T&T and we can set the standard by getting three on Matchday One.

* The US will be aggressive but not reckless. The goal of this game is to get points in whatever variety they come. The US has been known to get out early on the Soca Warriors and a quick pair of strikes will lock up the result (akin to their visit to Foxboro in 2001, where we scored twice in the first 22 minutes).

* The tactic will be to flood the box with crosses against a weak backline. Expect Beasley and Lewis to start on the flanks supported by Cherundolo and Bocanegra and Donovan to work as almost a third forward behind McBride and either Wolff or Johnson.

* This is the first match of the round and as such a less-than-stellar result will not doom the US. The roster combining players from Major League Soccer who are just starting spring training and in-season European-based players could make for a performance that is played at the level of our opponent.

Unofficial roster: Joe Cannon, Marcus Hahnemann, Kasey Keller; Chris Albright, Gregg Berhalter, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Jimmy Conrad, Cory Gibbs, Frankie Hejduk, Eddie Pope; DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Eddie Lewis, Pablo Mastroeni, Clint Mathis, Ben Olsen; Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson, Brian McBride, Taylor Twellman, Josh Wolff.

United States 2, Trinidad/Tobago 0

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