With matters so tight at the top of the final round of 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ qualifying in CONCACAF, it won't be possible for the USA to officially book passage to the finals on Wednesday. However, a win in their penultimate road game of the campaign, against Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, will put one of their feet on South African soil.
"Nobody gives up when they're playing for their country," said American and Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard, referring to T&T's heavy 4-1 loss to Honduras on Saturday, virtually putting them out of the running for a spot in the finals. "But obviously it's deflating for them. It's still a home game, though, and you wonder how their crowd will react to them. Will they get on their backs or will they give them a lift? It's tough to say."
Without suspended Oguchi Onyewu and injured Jay Demerit, the United States persevered through a poor defensive display in their game at the weekend, eventually winning out 2-1 after going down early. Clint Dempsey and qualifying top scorer Jozy Altidore did the scoring late in the first half, with man of the match Landon Donovan setting up both.
"Any game in World Cup qualifying is going to be tough," Fulham's Dempsey said after the game in Sandy, Utah. "We wanted the three points, so going down a goal early was kind of a shock. But we dug deep and our quality showed in the end."
LA Galaxy creator Donovan became the USA's all-time leader in FIFA World Cup qualifying appearances on Saturday night, the two-time finals veteran playing in his 32nd appearance in a preliminary for the global showpiece. "It's hard to know [what to expect against Trinidad]," said the USA's all-time top scorer after the comeback against El Salvador. "They're playing at home so they'll have some pride. I don't know if mathematically they're out but they're pretty close to [being eliminated]. It's hard to know what to expect, but we can't really worry about that. We have to go and try to win the game."
A win in the Caribbean on Wednesday will put the US in pole position to qualify for South Africa 2010 as one of the top three finishers in the North, Cenral America and Caribbean Zone, which would guarantee direct passage to the finals (the fourth-place team faces a play-off with South America's fifth finisher). They are currently joint-top of the final six-team group (13), alongside Honduras, with Mexico and Costa Rica both a point behind the leading pair. Trinidad and El Salvador are well behind with five points each.
"We understand how important every game in qualifying is," said US head coach Bob Bradley ahead the test in Port of Spain. "The way results have gone thus far, there haven't been many ties and teams have won at home, so teams are bunched at the top. We have to continue to fight for every point."
The Americans, who impressed earlier this summer with a runner-up finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, wrap up their qualifying campaign with a tough away day against Honduras next month and a home tie against Costa Rica, whose 3-0 loss at home to Mexico on Wednesday has derailed their hopes of automatic qualification.