October 8, 2009
By Michael Lewis
U.S. must be aggressive, but avoid yellows
When many soccer teams hit the road in World Cup qualifying, their top priority is securing a tie and a precious point.
|Bob Bradley realizes his team has to do a balancing act against Honduras.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Not this time. The first-place U.S. (5-2-1, 16 points) enters its CONCACAF final round match with third-place Honduras (4-3-1, 13) in San Pedro Sula Saturday (no TV) with hopes of a victory, which would book a spot in South Africa next year.
The Americans would prefer not to leave anything until the last minute. They have another qualifier against fourth-place Costa Rica (4-4-0, 12) in Washington, D.C. Wednesday. The top three teams will qualify while the fourth-place side will meet the fifth-place finisher from South American in a total goals series.
Of course, winning in the cauldron of Central America is a lot easier said than done.
Coach Bob Bradley realizes his team will not only be playing against a determined Honduran team that can reach the WC for the first time since 1982, but also against a country that has endured political unrest the past four months.
"The fact this game means everything to Honduras and its people, the atmosphere in the stadium with be loud, passionate and exciting," he said during a conference call Wednesday.
The Americans have had a history of starting out slowly in qualifiers in this final round.
"We want to start this match with the idea that we want to be the aggressor," Bradley said. "Yes, it's away from home. But its a game we want to try to take the initiative. But at the same time we have respect for Honduras and everything they have on the line. With their crowd behind them we'd be also naive to think that they're not going to be flying with everything at the start."
Bradley must find a way to balance out wanting to be aggressive and not get foolish yellow cards so he can have a full squad for Costa Rica if needed. Eight players have yellow cards, including regulars Landon Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra and Ricardo Clark.
ďThose are all factors that get weighed," Bradley said. Certainly our thoughts with regard to the Honduras game start with the idea that we have the opportunity to go there and go for the win. We will pay attention to the score in Costa Rica as both games move along but going in, itís an opportunity to play aggressively, to know from the start that playing for the first goal, being aggressive, trying to put Honduras on the defensive would all be things we would like to accomplish.
"The yellow card situation is a challenging one. I think that we have to find balance in this, in some cases, that includes players that play the same position who maybe are both carrying yellow cards, making some decisions in those ways. Finally, our discipline is important. We are very pleased that in the last two games we didnít pick up any yellow cards and so we have to once again make sure that our players understand that it will work in our favor as we play through this match.Ē
Midfielder Clint Dempsey (shoulder strain) is out, leaving Bradley with either Stuart Holden or Benny Feilhaber. Bradley hinted that his decision might be based on yellow cards. The same might go for Altidore, who continues to sit the bench in Hull City FC.
While there there has been political turmoil in Honduras -- president Manuel Zelaya was removed in a coup in June, but secretly returned to the country last month -- Bradley is comfortable with the team security.
"Whenever we travel, we always have had tremendous security," he said. "We've had a little discussion with the team so they're aware of the different factors. We've been on top of that."
The game will not be shown on TV in the U.S., only via closed circuit in bars and restaurants. Fans can follow the game vis MatchTracker at www.USSoccer.com.