EDGAR ZUNIGA - Friday, September 4, 2009
Things are not going according to plan.

With four games to go in CONCACAF qualifying for World Cup 2010, not only has Team USA failed to book their ticket for South Africa, they find themselves precariously close to falling into fourth place.

Just in case you're not aware, the fourth place team will compete in a home-and-away playoff against the fifth-place team from South America for a final spot in the World Cup. While fourth place isn't exactly the end, in a worst-case scenario, that could mean an encounter with a very testy Argentina squad, which is barely hovering over fifth place in South America.

Then again, because anything is possible with this inconsistent US team, if things go nightmarishly bad, they might completely crash out of the World Cup.

Chew on that for a bit.

Over the past two months, the landscape in CONCACAF has been altered somewhat. Where the US once stood, above the rest as king of the CONCACAF mountain, now you will find a smoking crater.

While the dust has settled from consecutive losses to archrival Mexico, the fallout is very much perceptible. Mexico is once again the CONCACAF giant (in case your local Mexican soccer fan hasn't already made this clear) and, suddenly, the other teams in the hexagonal feel they have a legitimate shot at beating the US.

Of course, through it all, Bob Bradley is quietly blinking and observing, with his trademark, tight-lipped expression.

What's on your mind, Bob?

Before we turn our attention to the upcoming qualifying games against El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago, there are a couple of matters that need to be addressed regarding the debacle at Estadio Azteca.

What was up with that b.s. that Team USA was spewing heading into the game?

Paraphrasing, but it sounded a lot like this, "Oh, we are not really concerned with winning this match. It's okay if we lose because we find ourselves in a better position than Mexico and we are pretty sure we are not going to win."

What the hell is that?

That's the worst attitude any team could adopt on the eve of a big game, especially against their archrival.

No matter what, Mexico is always gunning for a win over the US. You never hear the Mexican team talking about how they hope to come away with a point when visiting the US. That weak mentality doesn't fly in Mexico and it sure as hell shouldn't be acceptable here.

Can you imagine going into a fight, thinking to yourself that it's perfectly fine if you get beat up and mugged? After all, your health insurance will cover anything that happens to you, and bones mend, right?

No way.

That might have been tolerable before the early '90s, but since the US discovered that they can compete with Mexico, they should approach every game thinking - knowing - they can win.

The most ironic twist to all this is that Charlie Davies' surprising goal in the 9th minute actually put the US ahead and in position to win the damn game. Whether it was Landon Donovan's bout with Swine Flu or the usual gripes about Azteca, the US wilted under the pressure and Bob's team lost another game in the second half, squandering a terrific opportunity to beat Mexico at home.

It shows once again that Bob is reluctant to change and adjust his strategy when the other team has clearly done so and starts ramming balls down the US goalmouth.

So, up next comes the rematch with El Salvador, which has proven to be a very resilient team on the road. Despite having lost all their matches away from Estadio Cuscatlán, each one of those losses for the Salvadorans has been by one goal. That must be maddening for them.

Meanwhile, the US is hoping to bounce back with a performance similar to their dominating 3-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago, earlier this year in Nashville. But, will it be business as usual when the US plays at home, or will El Salvador drop the bomb on Rio Tinto Stadium, in Utah?

Now, hold on a second.

There is no way the US should drop any points to El Salvador at home. Yeah, the Salvadorans are feisty and really hungry for their first win away from Cuscatlan, but, in the latest FIFA rankings the US is ranked No. 11, and there is no way that No. 11 should drop points to No. 85, right?

Despite the sarcasm, it would be inexcusable for the US to lose to or draw with El Salvador. The US has never lost to El Salvador at home, having beaten them nine in a row and in 11 of their 16 encounters in the US.

Nevertheless, the speedy and physical Salvadorans are desperate for a win to keep their World Cup dreams alive. To prevent a debacle of apocalyptic proportions, Bob is going to have to rethink his current strategy. Yes, that means the US will have to stop countering and actually employ forward-minded tactics and attack!

If the US is going to have a good chance at beating El Salvador, they'll have to score early and often (if possible). In El Salvador's last two road losses, they gave up early goals that they were unable to overcome.

Bob will have to motivate his troops to push the subject and get El Salvador on their heels from the get-go. Forget scoring one goal and falling back to defend. Just like Mexico had no mercy in the Gold Cup final, the US has to develop a killer instinct and finish strong.

If not, it's a guarantee Team USA will have a difficult time at Rio Tinto and might find themselves in fourth place by the end of the night.

One side story to note is that of Arturo Alvarez, who grew up in Houston, Texas and played for the USA Youth National Team. Alvarez, who plays for San Jose Earthquakes, switched his soccer nationality from the US to El Salvador and made his debut against Trinidad & Tobago.

While this is not on the level of Judaseppe I mean, Giuseppe, Rossi - wouldn't it be weird if he scores on the US?

Eh...moving on.

The US better win that game against El Salvador, because four days later, they'll have to travel to Trinidad & Tobago, in game to be played at Hasely Crawford Stadium, where they lost 2-1 in the previous qualifying round, albeit in a throwaway game after the US had already secured passage to the final round.

Nevertheless, the US has yet to win on the road. It is imperative they finally do so, because looming on the horizon is a trip to Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in Honduras.

Although Trinidad & Tobago is currently in last place in the hexagonal, they can never be taken lightly. At home, they clawed back to draw with Honduras, barely lost to Costa Rica and defeated El Salvador. In their latest away game, the Soca Warriors had Mexico on the ropes in Azteca, before the Mexicans got a late goal to escape with the win.

What the US better prepare for is a team making a last ditch attempt to return to the World Cup, which makes them dangerous. There is no way the US can view this as a throwaway match, so they better forget about going in looking for a draw.

At the beginning of the year, who would've known that things would have been so tight for the US and Mexico at this stage in qualifying? If the US isn't careful, Mexico might sneak by them for that third and automatic ticket to South Africa.

Then, they'd wish they had approached the game in Azteca with more urgency.

You can never rest easy!
Ed C.
Monday September 7, 2009 8:30 am
i didn't see the game but we won, so thats the main thing! i thnk edgar is behind the team yet just pointing out flaws. and come on USA fans, be honest with yourselves and ask WHY IS BRADLEY THE COACH?! we need a good coach and we all know that. getting "behind" bradley because he is the coach isn't going to help him be a better coach, regardless. i'm one of the national team's biggest fans but this guy really has to go!
Sunday September 6, 2009 1:41 pm
this is a comment post el salvador game. good job to team for a good attacking performance with many chances. altidore and davies should be up front every game no matter what. as for the comments about coach, i am not a big fan of coach bob either. i just dont think he understands the talent that is at his disposal, because he continues to play mls players that dont belong on the national team. some obviously are good enough, ie donovan, but only because he choses to play in a lesser league than those of europe. i agree that if players are not getting minutes on a regular basis with their club, then more than likely they are not going to be ready for mnt play, but lets put the best team on the field for every game and try to obliterate every opponent we face. we should be stomping teams like el salvador and trin and tob. our attitude is that of too much respect for the other team. lets become a team with a chip on our shoulder, who knows we can beat any team on any given day, and go for the kill everytime. we have the talent, i just dont think we have the mentality to be great and that comes down from the coach.

altidore davies
dempsey donovan bradely torres
cherundolo gooch bocenegra spector
Saturday September 5, 2009 5:39 pm
a weak uninspiring attitude and a talented team that is maddeningly inconsistent are usually signs of a team that has no bond,trust or cofidence in their leader.the players seem to want to win but how can they trust moron bob when he lies(he says things like players who get lots of playing time with their club have a better chance to play so why is benchboy bradley starting and torres who plays lots of minutes for his club virtually glued to the bench?)this is a team that obviously has personal issues that will eventually explode into chaos and that's too bad cause they have the ability to win
Friday September 4, 2009 7:07 pm
Enough with the knee-jerk reactions mate. This is what I have come to expect from American football journalist. Are we in 4th? No, were pretty much in 2nd, and with 6 points this week, we are qualified. No matter if you like the coach, get behind your squad and support them, dont slag them off like we expect you to.
Charlie G.
Friday September 4, 2009 4:39 pm
While I'm not a fan of Coach Bradley, he is the present coach of the USMNT, and at least deserves personal respect - let's drop the references to "blinking" - it seems like a personal attack to me and has nothing to do with his performance as coach. This is not the first time I've seen this used.

Friday September 4, 2009 4:21 pm
I would disagree, Paul. We use the same strategy against just about every team, we just fear some more than others. We always lean on our defense, thinking it will save us. We need to leave defending to the four defenders and ONE, count with me, ONE destroyer, and focus on getting forward.

It is a BAD idea to try to be MORE defensive when you are missing key defenders, we just need to put together the best we got and score. A lot. At the very least, Feilhaber should start. If/when Ching starts, I will die a thousand deaths. Altidore has surely proven he is the most potent striker we have, Davies being the closest to his peak. Start em. Wouldn't mind seeing Torres and Holden, either.
Friday September 4, 2009 3:29 pm
isnt usa still ahead of mexico in the qualifing round? go coach bradley, do us proud and shut these little piscos up. gracias.
Friday September 4, 2009 2:31 pm
Now hold on a second, the USA at home never plays counter-attacking soccer against minnows like El Salvador. I am not sure what you are worried about here. They'll be going forward and attacking in waves.

The real question is why BB uses the defensive tactic of countering and long balls and waiting when we go away to play CONCACAF minnows. When the USA travels to Port-of-Spain, THAT is where they should be attacking without mercy. This horse crap about playing defensively on the road against these teams is ridiculous.

The USA by now has played plenty of "road" games at home. It shouldn't be much different. Its psychological. Just play for Christ's sake instead of pretending like you are supposed to give your opponent respect in their house and cower like frightened kittens. Its not like your playing Spain at the Bernabeu you know.
Friday September 4, 2009 2:18 pm
Well said. I am sick and tired of the team thinking it is okay to lose to big names or on the road. If you want to be an upper echelon squad, you have to get points on the road, and finish off your weaker opposition with authority. Both of these are traits that we have not seen with Bradley, and I highly doubt we ever will.
Adam R.
Friday September 4, 2009 1:23 pm
If you've ever played a sport that gets media attention, you're well aware of the fact that what is communicated to the press always downplays your situation.

However, what goes on behind closed doors is completely different.

Do yourself a favor and rewatch the Mexico game and count the number of quality scoring chances they had. I'll give you a hint: it wasn't that many. The US came out with an excellent tactical game plan and limited Mexico's chances to a scant few while conserving energy to attack in spurts. The game very well could have ended 2-0 US had a few bounces gone differently.

To suggest that the US wasn't interested in a result in a World Cup Qualifier is ludicrous, regardless of the cookie-cutter quotes that are typically of an American sports culture groomed in the Bull Durham School. Respect your opponent, defer to your opponent, don't motivate your opponent.

In short, you're completely off base.

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