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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Of mice and men: Round 2 of World Cup Qualifying

El Salvador vs USA (Saturday ESPN2 and Telefutura for those few of you not watching NCAA). San Salvador, Estadio Cuscatlan. Tall order for the US team? Maybe. Playing away matches is always difficult. Here are the facts: the US has not lost to a Central American team since the 2006 qualifying round against Costa Rica. Preliminary Round 2 of world cup qualifying last year saw them victorious against Guatemala on Guatemalan soil (1-0, Bocanegra). The US last lost against Trinidad & Tobago (1-2) on Trinitarian soil with an undermanned, inexperienced national team. Game day 1 saw the US victorious over mighty Mexico by the score of 2-0 in Columbus, Ohio. Meanwhile, El Salvador rallied back to tie T&T on Salvadoran soil.

Clearly there is a favorite here--USA. But in soccer as in any sport, there should be no favorites. El Salvador has competent players, a full stadium of ardent fans and considerable psychological advantage of the Estadio Cuscatlan. Who's to say the Salvadorans can't get a point or three here?

Aside from favoritism and a slew of Europe-based players, the US has much less pressure compared to El Salvador. How/why is this possible? Media coverage. True, there are a lot of us fans and sports writers/commentators that are extremely interested in the team. However, how many media sources were present at team practice in Miami this week? 2 sources... Futbol de Primera and US soccer. How do I know this? The hosts of the morning show on XM Deportivo remarked this as an important factor for the US squad on this game and all games in general. Less public attention = less pressure. In contrast, there was a great deal of press prsent for the Mexican squad... and Argentina? 200 media sources covered their practice sessions. Remarkable? Hardly. Not with Maradona at the helm.

I hold out hope for a positive result at El Salvador. I'm content with a tie but a win would be a giant step towards qualification. In qualifiers it is the results abroad that often dictate who advances to the World Cup. South Africa beckons and all teams involved have high stakes, no matter how much media coverage there is.

Bradley is trying something different this time around. No Clark, Davies, Bornstein, Wynne, Rogers. It stands like this: GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann; DEFENDERS: Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Frankie Hejduk, Heath Pearce, Dan Califf, Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit; MIDFIELDERS: DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, Clint Dempsey, Jose Francisco Torres, Freddy Adu, Maurice Edu, Pablo Mastroeni; FORWARDS: Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Brian Ching, Jozy Altidore, Eddie Johnson. Expect changes in roster between the two games. Howard is suspended for El Salvador (two yellows).

Stay tuned for the rest of the world this weekend and mid week next week. UEFA, AFC, CAF, CONCACAF and CONMEBOL all have games in hand. France is on the verge of another major failure. England can solidify their chances. Same goes for Spain. Mexico (and Eriksson) badly needs a win. The Asian group 2 is highly competitive with the two Koreas and Saudis and Iranians all in the mix. There's more than one group of death in Africa (Cameroon vs Togo; Nigeria and Tunisia). Ecuador has two major games versus Brazil and Paraguay and I'm not too confident with the team this time around. Maradona (Argentina) can potentially breeze through Venezuela and Bolivia but upsets are not impossible. Indeed, lots of action.