With a spot in the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ assured, even with two more third round preliminaries to play, USA can start planning for the six-team hexagonal next year.

They certainly left little doubt as to their capabilities with their 6-1 triumph over Cuba on Saturday night. DaMarcus Beasley led the American assault with two goals and Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, Jozy Alitore and Oguchi Onyewu added one apiece.

"We took care of business," goalkeeper Tim Howard told FIFA.com. Howard's reward will be an early return to train with Everton in the English Premier League, instead of flying with the national team for Wednesday's qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago. There is a good chance, however, that Howard won't have that luxury in the next round against the likes of Costa Rica, who clinched a spot on Saturday, and Mexico, who are expected to move on, even though they lost 1-0 in Jamaica.

The USA secured one of the two Group 1 spots with an unblemished record, scoring 11 goals and conceding only one. Jenzy Munoz scored the Cubans' lone strike in the 32nd minute with a blazing 24-yard shot. It broke a six-match streak in which the Americans had held their opposition scoreless, including five qualifiers.

After the game, the USA sounded more relieved than celebratory. "The only advantage I see is that we're not walking on eggshells," Onyewu said. "."

The USA also have to negotiate a qualifier against Guatemala in Commerce City on 18 November, and won't have to worry about the next round until 11 February.

"I've learned in this process that you never want to take anything for granted, and you don't want to leave anything to chance," said Donovan, who at 26 is trying to qualify for his third FIFA World Cup. "The fact you can get it over and done with is a good thing. Now Bob [Bradley, the USA coach] has a lot of flexibility to do what he wants to do."

That flexibility will allow Bradley to send some veterans back to their European teams earlier than expected, and to give young players an opportunity to perform in qualifiers. For example, three players used as second-half substitutes on Saturday night are expected to see more action in Trinidad.

That includes Villarreal forward Jozy Altidore, an 18-year-old who scored his second international goal and first qualifying goal in the 87th minute, 19-year-old AS Monaco midfielder Freddy Adu, who set up Onyewu's goal in the 90th minute, and midfielder Jose Torres, a 20-year-old who made his international debut in the 68th minute. Torres plays for Pachuca in the Mexican First Division, is the son of Mexican parents. So wearing the red, white and blue of the USA side brought joy to the local fans, given that he could have picked to represent the Americans' arch-rivals.

Now we can relax. We're guaranteed a spot in the next round, so we can focus on getting through the next round

Onyewu looks forward to the next challenge.

"For some of the guys who came on in the second half, there was a great opportunity to play and gain valuable minutes and exposure," said Howard. "."

Bradley will announce his roster for Trinidad on Sunday afternoon. He said he plans to bring in some young players. "I think there's a possibility we'll add some players," he said.

With a busy 2009 on the horizon, the American veterans will need all the rest they can get. In June and July, they participate in three international competitions. Their challenge starts out with two FIFA World Cup qualifiers in early June, and continues with the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa from 14 to 29 June. It concludes with the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will be played in the United States from 3 to 26 July.

All these games count. once you get them under your belt, they can't take them away. Jozy, Jose - all those guys did a really good job

Tim Howard lauds the performance.

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