U.S. Team Regroups For Cup Qualifier
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
GUATEMALA CITY, Aug. 19 -- The U.S. men's national soccer team began its World Cup qualifying adventure in June, but with all due respect to the Bajan Pride of Barbados, the Americans' quest for a berth in the 2010 tournament in South Africa truly begins here Wednesday night.
In a soccer-obsessed country.
In a crammed downtown cauldron that has witnessed triumph and tragedy.
In a game against a team ravenous to reach the World Cup for the first time.
"Everyone understands what is at stake right now and is committed to the big picture," U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu said Tuesday at the team hotel in the upscale Zona Viva section of this gritty capital city. "We're ready for the environment. I wouldn't say it will be hostile, but you'll have very committed fans adding to the intensity of the game."
The Americans will need to get re-accustomed to such settings. Over the next 14 months, assuming they do not stumble this fall, they'll have to perform in thorny environments throughout Central America and the Caribbean in pursuit of a sixth consecutive World Cup berth.
This trip, kicking off semifinal-round group play, will be followed by a historic stop in Havana to play Cuba on Sept. 6 and the home opener against Trinidad and Tobago outside Chicago four days later. They will then face the same three opponents in October and November, including Cuba on Oct. 11 at RFK Stadium.
The top two finishers will advance to next year's final round.
"Until you actually get into a game, it's hard to remember what it's like," said forward Landon Donovan, the U.S. program's all-time leading scorer and veteran of two World Cup qualifying cycles. "Once the process starts and you are in the middle of it, you realize, 'Here we go.' "
Much has changed since the Americans went winless at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Bob Bradley, a successful MLS coach, has taken over for Bruce Arena. Several veterans, including Brian McBride, Claudio Reyna and Eddie Pope, have retired from the international game, and a new generation of players has emerged.
The Americans have enjoyed considerable success since Bradley's appointment, winning an important regional tournament and scoring noteworthy exhibition victories at home and abroad, but getting back to the World Cup is all that really matters.
For this match, U.S. players traveled from all over the world to report to the team. Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra and Tim Howard, among others, left their European clubs, while Donovan, Brian Ching and others arrived from MLS teams. Bradley also called in four Olympians who became available on short notice after the U.S. squad failed to advance past the first round in China.