The USA are fast becoming the most consistent performer in North, Central America and the Caribbean. With a commanding lead in the region's final qualifying round for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, the youthful Americans are also on an upward trajectory in the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking.

Bob Bradley's Stars and Stripes moved up three places in the global pecking order between February and March, mainly on the strength of their exploits and winning ways in South Africa 2010 qualifying. A confident win at home over Mexico in February saw them move up to 17th place, and out in front of such established world football powerhouses as Uruguay, Scotland and Denmark

The United States - who finished runaway top of their semi-final qualifying group last year - began their final six-team group ('hexagonal') campaign in decided style, beating longtime rivals Mexico in what signifies a changing of the guard. While Mexico once dominated the rivalry, the USA have won the last two CONCACAF Gold Cups (the region's biannual cup of nations) and finished ahead of the Mexicans on the road to the FIFA World Cup finals in Germany 2006.

We know we're not there yet, and we continue to push ourselves very hard.

Midfielder Michael Bradley on the USA's status in world football.

"Games between Mexico and the United States are always tense and full of passion," Frankie Hejduk told after the 2-0 win in Ohio. "We're the top two sides in our region, and for my money we're ahead of them and we're determined to do all we can to keep it that way."

Led by the creative energies of Landon Donovan, who, after a loan spell at Bayern in Major League Soccer's close season, is now back in Los Angeles with the Galaxy, the United States look to have put the disappointments of their group stage exit at Germany 2006 behind them. They also have coped well with the departure of long-time coach Bruce Arena and the retirements of a raft of veteran players like Eddie Pope, Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride.

With a cast of emerging youngsters Like Freddy Adu, Sacha Kljestan, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore - who scored four goals in the USA's last two qualifiers, a 2-2 draw in El Salvador and a 3-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago - the American future is looking a bright one indeed. Now inside the top-twenty of the global standings, the States will no doubt be aiming to match their best-ever ranking of fourth, achieved in April 2006, as the qualifying campaign continues.

World's best await
In addition to free-scoring Spain-based striker Altidore, a foreign brigade led by Tim Howard (Everton), DaMarcus Beasley, Maurice Edu (both with Rangers) and Clint Dempsey (Fulham) have the USA's fortunes looking rosy. Their next qualifying tests come in June against Costa Rica and Honduras. The Americans are currently in first place in the 'hexagonal' with seven points from their three games, one point better than second-place Costa Rica, and will participate in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa later that same month, as champions of their region.

"American soccer has definitely improved. If you look at our team and see who's playing for which teams in Europe, it's positive," said Michael Bradley, son of coach Bob. "We know we're not there yet, and we continue to push ourselves very hard."