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Morning Morning Centerback: The hazards of road qualifiers


Anyone thinking that winning games on the road in World Cup qualifying isn’t as tough as people say might want to reconsider after last weekend.

Skeptics might want to ask France (pictured), which was thrashed by Austria (ranked 90 spots below the French in the FIFA rankings). They could also ask Angola, which lost to Benin (ranked 46 spots lower), or Ivory Coast, which tied Mozambique (ranked 80 spots lower).

Those are just some of the shock results and near-shocks that permeated throughout qualifying. Here are some others:

  • Italy needed a 90th-minute winner to beat Cyprus, which is 63 spots lower
  • Cameroon used a second-half comeback to beat the Cape Verde Islands, ranked 75 points lower
  • Sweden tied Albania, ranked 71 spots lower
  • Scotland lost to Macedonia, ranked 40 spots lower

Results like these are what make the U.S. team’s 1-0 victory against Cuba on a rainy and steamy night in Havana that much more meaningful, and what makes the Americans 2-0 start after two road World Cup qualifiers that much more impressive.

The Cuba match was a sloppy encounter played on a field most American high school games probably wouldn’t be played on and the result was a game without much rhythm or Joga Bonito. It could have ended up a draw if not for Clint Dempsey’s clinical finish or Tim Howard’s stunning save of a potential Carlos Bocanegra own goal, but the Americans found a way and now sit five points clear of third-place Guatemala in its group with four matches left in group play (three of which are at home).

As much as some fans wanted to make the first two U.S. qualifiers evidence of a team in crisis, what the two road wins provided was a test of character. Now that the Americans have passed those, it is on to the first true test of soccer ability, on Wednesday at Toyota Park in the Chicago suburb of Bridgeview against Trinidad & Tobago.

There will be no rowdy crowd or poor lighting or terrible field conditions or bunkering opponent, just a chance for the American team to show what it can do. After a summer of matches against world powers that gave the U.S. team few opportunities to dominate, the U.S. national team will be taking on an opponent that has played wide-open soccer so far in qualifying. If the Americans can’t create chances and score goals on Wednesday then U.S. coach Bob Bradley will run out of excuses for not bringing in the young attacking talents he has passed over early on in qualifying.

For now, American fans should appreciate the fact that their national team has six points from two road World Cup qualifiers. It is a track record no other team in CONCACAF can boast, and several top teams around the world would love to have right now because the road to World Cup 2010 is covered with landmines and the U.S. national team has already dodged two.


  1. Are we honestly only one goal better than cuba? I think if we went in there trying to actually play the game right we would have won by four goals. Road qualifying is easy in concacaf outside of the big three: mexico, usa, and costa rica. all three of those teams drop away games at each other. other than that, the usa hasnt lost an away game in more than a decade. The fact that we can’t play a better style now, just indicates that for the 2010 world cup, when every game is hard, we won’t be attacking at all. We will be defending and hoping to grab a goal on a set piece.

  2. Hey COsborn!

    When is the last time that Onyewu was beaten by a forward not named Messi or Villa? Seriously. When? Tell me when was the last time that the central defense has not been either VERY good or decent?

    Care to rack up the goals against in the last 8 games going back to the Poland friendly? Think it’s all Howard? Or do think that our defense as a unit and individuals have been doing their job?

    REALLY! Tell me when the last time our defense has been bad? England? No. 2-0 there was not the end of the world. That was the worst of it. Spain (you know…the Euro 2008 champs…did you watch any of that?) won on a late goal. ARGENTINA? I hear they don’t suck. 0 goals. Two qualifiers…0 goals against.

    So please, if you want to cry about the tactics or the roster selection or the phase of the moon, have at it. But don’t try to pass off a tired argument about the US defenders being weak when they have conceded so few goals. Please. Attempt to think before you type. At least try.

  3. Yes, 6 points is great coming from away games in difficult locations. However, there has to be concern at how we played in those games. It is all about qualifying but, we also don’t want to be embarrased in cup play – and we shouldn’t have to be. The past few months have resulted in legitimate questions relative to Bradley’s player selection and line-ups – not the least of which revolves around how he is playing his son

    If we win at home by the scores we should given the level of competition (3-0, 4-0 etc) then clearly, all of us bemoaning the current situation will need to shut up. If we continue to win by a goal and score less than 3 against this level of competition, then, unfortunately, I think it will be hard to be optimistic.

  4. Interesting stuff to read over. IMHO – the US can be pleased with 6 points in two road games. That said, there are many reasons to be seriously concerned about the team’s future.

    1. Overall talent level – it’s certainly up and getting better. There are more US players making contributions to solid sides in Europe. But there still is a shocking lack of scoring ability. Where is the next Brian McBride?

    2. Tactics – the US was really overmatched against Spain and a really BAD England team in terms of tactics. The midfield and central backs in particular seem to have no clear idea how to adjust during a game, control the ball through mid field and link up the back line to an organized attacking front line.

    3. Central defense – I must respectfully disagree with anyone’s assessment that Gooch and Bocanegra are decent backs. Boca couldn’t cut the mustard with Fulham FC. Granted, Fulham is an EPL team, but if THAT side says, “You’re not good enough,” you’re not good enough. Gooch continues to get beaten BADLY by average to poor forwards, and that happened against Cuba, too. He’s simply dreadful. Where is Jay Demerit? Heck, where is anyone with a pulse?

    4. Roster selection – Bradley is completely overmatched as a coach, and his roster selections continue to be a mystery. Why can Mexico land a top coach and the US cannot? Unacceptable. No excuses. Until Bradley and US Soccer decide to actually field the best 11 players they can find, the US will continue to be 30th or so in the world, which is – truthfully – probably 10 -15 spots TOO HIGH given their performances over the past 2-3 years. It’s simply time to face up to the reality that – the team needs a top noth international coach who can mold this talent pool (and there IS talent) into a competitive side.

  5. …oh, and apparently the US hasn’t lost an away qualifier in CONCACAF (excluding Mexico and Costa Rica?) in the past 3 qualifying cycles. Interesting…

  6. There is no way Cuba had even close to 55% of the posession against us. We spent a good majority of the game playing with the ball around the back, where Cuba would immediately attack when they got the ball. I would guess that the posession was closer to 60/40 in favor of the USA, possibly 70/30 in the last 30 minutes.

  7. brett – Just wanted you to know that I agree with your assessment of Cooper. I also want to see Buddle get a decent look on the senior squad to see what he’s got. But I’m more impressed with what Cooper’s managed to do without much help from his teammates. Bottom line, both deserve a call up before EJ.

  8. I understand what you’re saying Ives, and I appreciate the perspective, but I can’t help but think that:

    1) the results were somewhat lucky, as the games were contested fairly evenly with a lucky bounce one way or the other deciding each contest.

    2) and this point goes to Tim as well. The Italians are often critiqued for playing too conservatively against vastly overmatched opponents. This sometimes leads to early tournament exits and monumental struggles in early rounds and boring soccer. The push for the inclusion of better offensive players isn’t about flash and entertaining soccer (though that would be nice), it’s about sure wins by comfortable margins rather than sweating out 0-0 ties and 1-0 squeakers.

    I argue that 2 d-mids and overloaded rosters w/ unskilled, workmanlike midfielders puts us in more danger of not qualifying than the reverse.

    It’s especially hard to justify leaving Adu and Altidore off in because their Euro clubs didn’t even play this weekend. This was the perfect opportunity to bring them in. His reasoning doesn’t make sense and I fear that we won’t see our best young players even for the WC if we even make the field.

  9. brett


    Just kidding. The forward situation will change. It’s jsut a question of when and (less so) who. Arguements about Cooper/Buddle and Buddle/Cooper aside, if josy isn’t starting in 2010 I’ll be shocked….

  10. tony- im not doubting that you want cooper to get a shot, but i was simply pointing out that Cooper has been just as good all season without the likes of a LD or a Beckham on his team…. altho, he hasnt bloated his scoreline with a brace of hattricks… altho thats not always a bad thing

    if buddle gets his shot with the nats and nails home a goal (or more), then by all means id want him playing more… but based on both performances i like Cooper more….

    i agree certain players are better suited for certain teams…. and i can understand your reasoning for Buddle against Concacaf teams…. but when it comes down to playing against better quality defense, id put my money on cooper (but thats just me)

    as for your comparison of the two…. claiming buddle score per shot ratio being better then cooper’s as a reason for bringing him up over cooper is folly… the numbers arent accurate to they style nor effectiveness of striker…. im not saying one is better then the other, im simply saying that id like to see cooper get a call up (and im not claiming that would change our predicament up top)

    either way, i think we both agree the forward situation needs to change….

  11. brett:

    I’m saying it because watching the games bears me out. Example, Buddle had a hat rick in Oakland against the Quakes. One was off a lofted “hopeful” ball by Beckham. The other two were balls delivered by others. He had three chances and he nailed all three. This week he scored again when the stars were out of town. Look, if it was all the service than Alan Gordon would be a star…and he ain’t.

    Look, I want Cooper to get a chance, but I think two things here. (1) I think Buddle has a style more suited to our conference. That’s not an ultimate value judgment. It’s a match up judgment. I think he’d stand up to Azteca better than Cooper. Maybe Cooper would be better in Europe – I’m not sure. But (2) let’s look at the comparison. Both have 13 goals. The supposedly more versitle Cooper has exactly one more assist (3 to 2). But Buddle’s 13 goals are on 55 shots. Coopers are on 78. That’s nearly half again as many shots. That raises questions.

    Sure, playing with Donovan and Beckham isn’t going to hurt any striker’s chances. But if it was all the service than Alan Gordon would be a star too…and he ain’t.

    I just don’t see where Cooper has a clear cut case over Buddle.

  12. Paul–

    I think your comment was aimed at me, but you’re misquoting me (or perhaps I was unclear). I was saying Howard played a stellar (above average (for him) game), Guatemala was terrible (even for them) at finishing, we were dominated on possession and shots on goal…all things considered, we were pretty lucky to walk out with all 3 points.

    Also, I’m not calling for Bradley’s head. I am not a big fan of his defensive formations (minimum 2 DMs at all times), especially when our midfield struggles to hold possession, but overall, he’s doing an alright job. I appreciate the fact that we’re now playing friendlies on the road and against better opponents. I appreciate that he’s willing to try out new players (despite the “experienced” squads of late). I’m not really occupying either extreme here–I think I’m one of those “glad we have 6 points, hope we play better in the future” people. I don’t think we’re doomed. And I resent being called an “a-hole” by someone for being less than thrilled…

  13. Green, wasn’t trying to have a go at you so apologies if it came off that way. Your level of doom and gloom isn’t the real cancerous stuff I was thinking of specifically. Nothing wrong with being jaded. It’s when the jaded start abusing the non-jaded that things get a bit boring and unproductive.

  14. To say that the US soccer program is not heading forward is a bit…silly. During the 2002 and 2006 WCQ’s there were times when the US was actually pushed ,where we NEEDED to win a game. This country’s program has moved beyond CONCACAF’s teams such that there has not been, and probably won’t be, a time in during this qual. process that the team will be in danger of not qualifying.

    This lack of drama during qualifying is an example of progress. That SI guy, Mike Woitalla and folks with expectations of 3-and-out are ignoring the facts on this. Guys, we used to WORRY about qualifying for the cup. Now, we not only don’t worry, we fret if we don’t look like Brazil when playing road qualifiers a full two YEARS before the S. Africa WC?

    That’s the doom-and-gloom that doesn’t make any sense. Question the roster, tactics, say this-guy-sucks, whatever floats your boat. But the US program is far removed from what it was 8 or even 4 years ago.

    Rant ended. 🙂 Cheers,


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