U.S. needs to do more than simply advance to the World Cup

Conor Casey, left, and Charlie Davies celebrate after
Casey scored one of his two goals against Honduras
to help the U.S. clinch a spot in
the 2010 World Cup.
(Eduardo Verdugo
/ Associated Press
/ October 10, 2009

Getting to the tournament was expected,
doing better than they did in 2006
is a necessity.
Conor Casey, Charlie Davies

By Grahame L. Jones
Amid the euphoria of Saturday night's unexpected
U.S. victory over Honduras and the clinching
of a place in soccer's 2010 World Cup,
there was also a hard reality check.

The job is only half done.

By earning its ticket to South Africa with
one game to spare, the American team
has done no more than what was expected.

The U.S. and Mexico, which also secured its
World Cup place on Saturday, were always
favored to advance to next year's 32-team
world championship.

The difficult part will come in avoiding a repeat
of what happened in Germany in 2006,
when the U.S. was beaten by the Czech Republic,
tied eventual winner Italy,
lost to Ghana and came home.

The team barely had time to unpack.

Three games and out is not a scenario
that the American players and coaches
want to see in 2010.

"For those of us who were there, we don't want
to go through that again," Galaxy forward
Landon Donovan told the Associated Press
on Saturday night in San Pedro Sula, Honduras,
after the Americans scored a
come-from-behind 3-2 victory.

If Coach Bob Bradley's team defeats Costa Rica
in its final qualifying game on Wednesday night
at RFK Stadium in Washington,
it will finish atop its regional qualifying group.

"We take a great amount of pride in trying
to be the best team in CONCACAF," Bradley
said of soccer's North and Central American
and Caribbean region.

The rest of the soccer world, however, hardly
gives CONCACAF teams a second thought.
It is only when they achieve results
on a global stage that the world pays heed.

That happened in June at the Confederations Cup,
also in South Africa, when the U.S. defeated
European champion Spain in the semifinals
and was leading South American champion Brazil
by two goals at halftime in the final
before losing, 3-2.

That caught the soccer world's attention,
and the same thing will be needed
at the June 11-July 11 World Cup.

Much will depend on the Dec. 4 draw, to be held
in Cape Town, South Africa.
The U.S., which could be among the eight
second-seeded teams, will learn then which
three teams it will play in the first round
of the World Cup.

"Certain draws are better than others,
" U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard told
the Associated Press, but the Americans
can still expect a tough challenge.

The difference between 2006 and 2010 is that
the team has grown in confidence and self-belief.
Each unexpected victory against technically
more skilled and experienced teams,
each win in a hostile environment,
has helped in that regard.

The players that Bradley takes to South Africa
next year will have "been there, done that,"
and that alone should make
the Americans an opponent to take seriously.

Of course, much depends on the type of games
and caliber of teams that U.S. Soccer can line up
for Bradley ahead of the World Cup.
The Netherlands already is penciled in as one
possible opponent in March.
There is talk of a game against England.

Playing against teams that it is not expected
to defeat will be crucial in further developing
and strengthening the U.S. squad ahead
of its June departure for South Africa.

Bradley's predecessor, Bruce Arena, who coached
the U.S. for eight years, cited weak warm-up opponents
as one reason for the Americans' failure
at the Germany '06 World Cup.

The U.S. played Morocco, Venezuela and Latvia
in those matches and then crumbled when
it came up against real opposition in Germany.
So May's schedule is critical.

Meanwhile, the American players and coaches
are to be congratulated for getting to South Africa.
But what they accomplish there will ultimately
determine how they are remembered.

The job is only half done.


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Sent from Kigali, Rwanda

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