With typical efficiency, the United States reached the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ by qualifying in first place in the final six-team Hexagonal phase of North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying. Under the careful guidance of coach Bob Bradley, a well-drilled Stars and Stripes' blend of proven internationals and up-and-coming stars never looked in danger of missing out, and will be keen to build on their second-place finish at the FIFA Confederations Cup South Africa 2009.
The road to South Africa
After putting nine goals without reply past minnows Barbados in Stage 2, the USA found themselves drawn with Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala and Cuba in Group 1 of Round 3. Bradley's charges held firm to win five of their six encounters in the penultimate group stage, their only defeat a 2-1 reverse in Port of Spain against the Soca Warriors with progress to the Hexagonal already in the bag.
The United States kicked off the decisive final phase in the best fashion possible by beating arch-rivals Mexico 2-0, a result they followed up with a 2-2 draw in El Salvador. A comfortable 3-0 victory over T&T was backed up by a 3-1 reverse in Costa Rica, one of only two defeats in the final section. The other came by a score of 2-1 in Mexico's fortress-like Estadio Azteca, though the Stars and Stripes kept their nerve to stay on track and clinch their South Africa 2010 ticket with a 3-2 win in another of CONCACAF's toughest grounds: the Estadio Olimpico in the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula.
The star players
In recent years, the name Landon Donovan has been synonymous with the US national team. The Los Angeles Galaxy attacker has often saved his very best performances for a USA shirt, and there is little doubt that Donovan will once again be one of his team's leading men at South Africa 2010. Providing an impressive supporting cast are the likes of Oguchi Onyewu, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, all of whom are plying their trade on European soil.
Bradley was originally appointed national coach on a caretaker basis, though a run of ten games unbeaten quickly convinced the powers that be that he deserved the role on a permanent basis. And anyone who doubted his credentials would have been silenced by events at the FIFA Confederations Cup 2009, where the USA ousted favourites Spain in the semi-finals before going down to a narrow 3-2 final defeat to Brazil.
Previous FIFA World Cups
• The United States have taken part at nine FIFA World Cups, with Mexico the only CONCACAF team involved in more editions of the showpiece event.
• The Stars and Stripes' best finals performance came at Uruguay 1930, when they exited at the semi-final stage.
• South Africa 2010 will be the United States' sixth consecutive finals appearance. At Germany 2006 they bid farewell to the tournament at the first hurdle.
• The United States' 2-0 victory over Spain at South Africa 2009 prevented La Roja extending their 35-game unbeaten run, a record they hold jointly with Brazil.
• The USA had enjoyed a 58-match unbeaten home streak against CONCACAF opponents until July 2009, when arch-rivals Mexico thrashed them 5-0 in the final of the Gold Cup.
• Altidore, currently on loan at English Premier League outfit Hull City from Villarreal, was the Stars and Stripes' six-goal top scorer in qualifying.
What they said
"We're very proud to have finished at the top of the final Hexagonal. It was a great effort and required a great deal of determination on our team's part. Every time we took the field we spoke about proving to the world what we were capable of and I think we did just that." Bob Bradley, USA coach, after his side claimed top spot in North, Central America and Caribbean Zone qualifying.