Three points is three points is three points. Sometimes you have to tell yourself that.
After scraping out an ugly win against Trinidad and Tobago (Trinidad and Tobago! scraped out!) the US Men's National team is back at the top of the table for World Cup Qualifying. The ugly 0-1 victory almost wasn't after a couple of valiant efforts by TnT on the goal, helped along by a lackadaisical US defensive effort that looked more like something you'd see out of a U-12 rec team, with the obvious exception being the always impeccable Tim Howard.) After an embarrassing home loss to Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup followed by another drubbing at Azteca in Mexico City, the US needed a statement win against the team at the bottom of the World Cup Qualifying table. Needless to say, they did not get it, instead confirming fears that the US is a spotty and inconsistent team capable of occasional brilliance. Regardless, they got the win and are again atop the hexagonal going into the final stretch.
With that in mind, we should take a look into the next two games which are also the last of the WCQ campaign. These results of these final games will determine whether or not the US makes it to South Africa for 2010. The first game is in Honduras, and against a team sitting on the cusp of their first World Cup Finals appearance since 1982, and their second ever. The US and Honduras have been frequent opponents over the last year, with the US winning every meeting. That being said, any trip the US Men take south of the Rio Grande has a high potential for trouble. Honduras is hungry, and with a World Cup berth on the line, our boys will have to bring their A-game. We have had a couple of scares with the Hondurans lately and they are not to be underestimated.
The last game of our qualifying campaign will be against Costa Rica at home. After a stunning 3-1 loss to CRC in San Jose, the US cannot afford to let up before the finish line here. With the table as it stands, Costa Rica is in the play of spot for the confederation, and though that may change with the next round of games. Having made the last two World Cup Finals, they will not want to start missing them now and will surely be loaded for bear.
So with two games left, the US is in a favorable position to qualify, but not a position without risk. With any luck, Bradley won't use these games to experiment with different players, or allow those who have not been producing to find their groove. It was a relief to finally see Brian Ching sitting on the bench for the last two game after an awful summer which he spent conspicuous only in his inability to produce chances. Though certainly a good player with his club, he has routinely fallen short on the world stage. Conversely, I would like to see more playing time from his fellow Dynamo player Stu Holden, who has quite possibly booked his own ticket to South Africa with his play this summer. Holden has been a force in the midfield, setting up many chances, showing a dangerous shot, and contributing significantly in the defensive third. Several others have also shown their chops (Feilhaber, Altidore, Davies, etc) while most of the old guard continues to impress (Donovan, Bocanegra, Howard, etc.) Things look good for the US qualifying, but the more important question is how. Will they scrape along doing just well enough to be respectable, or will we see the type of brilliant play that brought them to the finals of the Confederations cup and put them two goals ahead of Brazil. They have shown they are capable of stunning play, when it counts. Let hope they realize just how much it does over the next month.