World Cup qualifying will begin in June against Barbados or Dominica.
DURBAN, South Africa (Sunday, November 25, 2007) -- The United States men will begin their quest to compete in a sixth straight World Cup in June, facing either Barbados or Dominica in the first of three qualification rounds, as established in the a preliminary draw today for South Africa 2010.
The U.S., which gets a bye in the first round of CONCACAF qualifying along with 12 other nations, also got a good idea of who it will meet in the third round, should it advance. Guatemala, Trinidad & Tobago and Cuba will be favorites heading into their second-round games and appear destined to meet up with the Americans in one of three, four-nation semifinal groups.
First, the U.S. must await the winner of a series between Barbados and Dominica, one of 11 first-round home-and-away series. The Americans have never faced Dominica and only played Barbados twice in their 91-year history -- winning 7-0 and 4-0 in a pair of 2000 meetings. The latter triumph booked passage for the U.S. to its highly successful quarterfinal run in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea.
Barbados was eliminated by St. Kitts & Nevis in the second round of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, but rebounded this year to become one of eight countries to qualify foe the Caribbean Cup finals. Dominica slipped past the Bahamas in the first round in the last qualifying, but was eliminated in the second round by Mexico, which posted 10-0 and 8-0 routs.
"Certainly we know that Barbados would be the favorite to advance," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley, who led his side to a 12-5-1 in 2007, his first year at the helm. "We know Barbados from having played against them twice in the semifinal round of qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. They are a team that typically is physically talented and are starting to have more players competing overseas.
"The experience of a player like Paul Ifill at Crystal Palace continues to make teams like Barbados increasingly difficult to play against as they gain international experience. It is always important to respect opponents like that. Their recent efforts in the 2007 Caribbean Cup that included a draw against host Trinidad & Tobago indicate that they are a capable team."
The 11 first-round winners join 13 members with first-round byes for the second round, which will consists of 12 home-and-away series in June. Joining the U.S. as seeded nations are Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago. St. Vincent and the Grenadines was not seeded, but received a first-round bye.
Guatemala awaits the winner of the Turks and Caicos Islands-St. Lucia series, Trinidad & Tobago faces the winner of Bermuda-Cayman Islands two-match set, while Cuba meets the winner of the Aruba-Antigua and Barbuda pairing.
"All the teams in CONCACAF continue to improve, making qualifying for the World Cup increasingly competitive," Bradley said of the region that includes, North America, Central America and the Caribbean. "The time we have spent in South Africa has given an indication that it will be great World Cup. It helps set your sights on what you need to do in order to be a part of it."
The U.S. has a longer history against its three expected foes in the semifinals round. The Americans are 10-4-5 all-time against (25 goals for, 16 against), including a 15-game unbeaten streak, and a 4-0-4 mark in qualifying. The U.S. squared off against Guatemala in the final round of qualifying for last year's World Cup in Germany, first winning 2-0 in Birmingham, Ala., behind goals from Eddie Johnson and Steve Ralston, then playing a 0-0 draw in Guatemala City after Cup qualification was already in hand.
The U.S. is also undefeated (8-0-2) in qualifying against Trinidad & Tobago. The two countries last met during qualifying for the 2006 World Cup with the U.S. winning both matches. The first meeting was the opening match of the Final Round and the U.S. got goals from Eddie Johnson and Eddie Lewis for a 2-1 victory in Port of Spain, Trinidad. In the second match, Brian McBride tallied the lone goal in a 1-0 victory in East Hartford, Conn.
The Americans have only faced Cuba once before in World Cup qualifying, dating back to a two-game series in 1949, played in Mexico City. The U.S. tied Cuba 1-1 in the first game and later won 5-2 as part of a three-team group that also included Mexico. Overall, the U.S. holds a 5-1-1 record against Cuba with a 21-9 goals advantage.
If the U.S. and Cuba both advance to the semifinal round, the Americans' road match against the Cubans would take them to the Caribbean country for the first time.
"We're pretty excited to get the process started. Now it becomes real," U.S. defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "We've been playing in good competitions over the last year, but starting next year is when it really counts. . . It's a long road, but the prize at the end is the World Cup and we are anxious to get going."
The winners of the 12 second-round matches move on to the third round where the top two finishers in each of three four-team groups -- each entrant plays other group members home and away in a six-match, round-robin format -- move on to comprise the final round. The semifinal round match dates in 2008 are August 20, September 6, September 10, October 11, October 15 and November 19, all designated international play dates by world governing body FIFA.
As the top three CONCACAF finishers at last year's World Cup, Costa Rica, Mexico and U.S. will be in separate semifinal groups, should they advance.
The final round will be competed in 2009 with each team playing home and away for 10 total matches with the top three earning entrance to the 2010 World Cup. The fourth-place team will face South America's fifth-place finisher in a two-match, home-and-away series for another World Cup berth. The matches will be competed on February 11, March 28, April 1, June 6, June 10, August 19, September 5, September 9, October 10 and October 14, all also international match dates.
The U.S. was the first team from CONCACAF to qualify for the 2006 World Cup with the Americans compiling a 12-2-4 record with 10 clean sheets in the process. At home, the U.S. was 8-0-1, scoring 10 goals without conceding any.
The U.S. has appeared in eight World Cup finals since the tournament began in 1930.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.