June 15, 2008
By Michael Lewis
NO LETDOWN PLANNED
U.S.says it's ready for minnows Barbados
Carson, Calif. -- After playing three of the top 10 soccer teams in the world, you would think that the U.S. would be heading for an emotional letdown even in its first World Cup qualifying game.
In a lead-up to Sunday's CONCACAF second-round qualifier, the Americans played and lost to No. 1 Argentina, No. 4 Spain and No. 9 England. Barbados is ranked 121st.
But U.S. coach Bob Bradley felt that the team will will ready for the match at The Home Depot Center (ESPN2, 5 p.m.).
“It’s a key part of any team that we have players that have been through qualifying and understand what it’s like and never to take any opponent lightly," Bradley said earlier this week. "You can tell that in the last few days as we’ve switched gears from this three-game stretch of playing top teams to World Cup qualifying, you constantly hear Landon Donovan, Timmy Howard and Carlos Bocanegra and others talking to their teammates about what to expect and how the first game is key and how we’re home and what we need to do early in the game.
"There’s nothing more important than the voices of experience telling others what it’s going to be like.”
Because it is a total goals series, the Americans must get as many goals as they can at home before the second leg in Barbados Sunday, June 22.
“Clearly, in a home game, it is our responsibility to attack, to handle the ball well and to mix up our attack are all important things in terms of creating chances against a team that may indeed choose to keep a lot of numbers back," Bradley said. "It’s an interesting challenge because again, you want to play with a certain amount of urgency but yet at the same time, the game requires some patience to find some of these seams and holes, get one in,
Leaving nothing to chance, Bradley has called in the A team, the top National Team players.
In World Cup qualifying, a bad back pass, a bone-head play or an ill-timed tackle could change the course of a match and a country's chances in a tight match.
The likelihood of it happening against Barbados is not that great, but that's why there are upsets.
"The preparation for those games has to be like any other game," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "There has to be attention to detail. You have to know your opponent. You need to make sure that our players understand what we need to do to be successful. We need to take care of things. You don't try it any differently than the preparation for other games. The fact of matter it is the start of World Cup qualifying. And that's the goal for all of us -- to be in South Africa in 2010.
And when you are in a total-goals series, even stranger things can happen.
Take, for example, what happened four years ago when the Americans took on Grenada in similar circumstances. The 3-0 score line in Columbus, Ohio even was a bit deceiving. The Grenadans packed their penalty area. On a rain-soaked field in the second leg, the U.S. prevailed in Grenada, 3-2, although ballhandling was precarious.
So, it certainly wouldn't be surprising if Barbados uses a similar strategy Sunday.
"Normally speaking, you would say, yeah, Barbados is a team that we should absolutely beat," Donovan said. "The problem is and we found this with Grenada. Let's say we don't play well and they play as good as they can play on the road when you play the first game at the Home Depot Center. We get unlucky. We hit the post a couple of times and the game ends up 0-0. Now you're going to Barbados, where they think they've got a real chance and anything can happen.
"That's where soccer is. I think a lot different from other games because on any day teams can find a way to get something out of a game. In the Grenada game it was the last minute before halftime before until we scored and they had a chance to score early on. You don't know what could happen. On paper, yeah, before going in, we should absolutely beat them. But you never know."