Qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™ was one thing for USA. Doing well in eight months at South Africa 2010 is another, especially in the wake of major injuries to key starters.
USA concluded North American qualifying for next year's global showpiece with a 2-2 draw against Costa Rica on Wednesday to finish top of the group, a feat coach Bob Bradley hopes will bring a seeding boost.
"We had big goals and we achieved them," Bradley said. "Now we have to work hard to continue to improve. We understand the responsibility of the World Cup. It's great to get there but there's a responsibility to get there and play at a high level. We're proud to win the group but we know what is ahead of us."
USA reached the quarter-finals at Korea/Japan 2002 but were ousted in the opening group stage at Germany 2006, setting the stage for Bradley to take over the team. Bradley made it clear that the American goal is nothing less than capturing the FIFA World Cup, but to that end the next goal will be simply to make it through the first round against foes he will learn in December's draw.
"We can only control this situation when we get there," Bradley said. "You have to be able to play those three games in a certain way. You have to adapt after the first game."
The Americans are likely to have to play without striker Charlie Davies, who suffered major injuries in a car crash on Tuesday and is expected to need six to 12 months of rehabilitation. Added to that was defender Oguchi Onyewu's torn left patella tendon suffered late in Wednesday's game, leaving a ten-man USA team to fight back for the equalizer on Jonathan Bornstein's header in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
"It's another setback for us," Bradley said. "'Gooch has been such an important part of our team. He is someone we are sure is going to get back." Whether the AC Milan defender will be at peak form for the FIFA World Cup is unknown but the USA squad, a mix of veterans and new faces such as Davies, has been able to rely upon different players to come through at key times.
That includes a run to the FIFA Confederations Cup final earlier this year in South Africa, where USA led Brazil at half-time before losing the championship match.