US Begins Qualification for 2010 World Cup

By Andrew Dixon
Updated: June 14, 2008

MIAMI — The United States’ long and winding road to the 2010 World Cup in S. Africa finally gets underway this weekend.

The US will host a two-legged home and home series against the Bajan Rockets of Barbados on Sunday (5pm, ET, ESPN2) with the return leg the following Sunday in Bridgetown, Barbados. The winner on aggregate goals will move on to a 4 team semi-final group to be contested over this summer and fall.

The US last met Barbados during the semifinal round of qualifying for the 2002 World cup. The US won both matches indominating fashion, 7-0 in Foxboro and 4-0 in Bridgetown.

The US comes into this match having just completed a three match exhibition schedule against top level competition. The matches against England, Spain and Argentina were useful in that the side played against teams that are far superior in talent, depth and international experience than the Barbados squad they’ll be facing. Given the competition they’ve faced and the international pedigree and experience of many of the US players, this tie is not expected to be close.

However the US did not win any of these matches and further, didn’t score in any of them. Weaknesses were exposed such as US’ suspectiblility to constant off the ball the movement and precison passing as demonstrated most especially against England and Spain .

The midfield did not create enough quality chances during the run of play and the forward position, most notably in the person of Eddie Johnson (Fulham, England) rarely troubled opposing defenses and goal keepers.

Though the US showed improvement over the three matches and put Argentina, the No. 1 side in the world, in some discomfort, the lack of scoring and control of the midfield, even against this level of competition led to serious concerns by US fans and calls for the dismissal of coach Bob Bradley.

However, the US did take postitives from these matches as the defense played well against Spain and Argentina. Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege, Belgium), though shaky at times, are solid enough and will anchor the backline.

Tim Howard (Everton, England) had a tremendous match in goal against Argentina and is clearly the No. 1 goal keeper for the US right now. Freddy Adu (Benfica, Portugal) played well in 45 mins against Spain and thoughout the match against Argentina.

As one of the few players who was willing to take defenders on, his play will give Coach Bradley a lot to think about as calls for his inclusion in the starting lineup alongside Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) are growing louder.

At forward, Eddie Johnson has been in a prolonged international scoring slump and may have lost his starting spot to Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching, recently called into camp.

The forward play of the US has been a point of concern for some time now and though the US should have enough to get past Barbados, this will continue as the US faces tougher competition down the road.

Barbados, ranked 121st in the world by FIFA, advanced to this round having dispatched of Dominica 2-1 on aggregate over the course of two legs in March.

However, they too have had disappointing results in recently friendly matches. They lost two friendlies to Bermuda (including a 3-0 loss last week) and were blanked by 2006 World Cup qualifiers, Trinidad and Tobago.

They have called in nine overseas players, most of whom are seeking time with USL teams here in the US or lower division teams in England. The most experienced of these players is Paul Ifill of English side Crystal Palace currently in the equivalent of the 2nd division of English football.

Norman Forde (Youth Milan, Barbados) Mark McCammon (Doncaster Rovers, England) and Scunthorpe United midfielder Jonathan Forte will all be counted on by Barbados to trouble the US, who have, at times, had some difficulty with athletic sides.

However, the US should advance comfortably against a less experienced side. The key for the US is doing emphatically and regaining the confidence needed to progress through the CONCACAF regin to its ultimate goal: another World Cup appearance.