The U.S. Soccer team begins its 2010 World Cup qualifying campaign with a home match on Sunday against Barbados in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson, California. Chris Cox has a preview.
Since the United States is ranked among the top 12 teams in the North, Central America and Caribbean (CONCACAF) region, it earned an automatic spot in the second round of regional qualifying.
The U.S. men go into this game after a challenging three-game friendly warm-up series. After shutout losses at England (2-0) and Spain (1-0), the Americans had their best outing last Sunday, playing world number one-ranked Argentina to a scoreless draw in suburban New York.
Though the U.S. team failed to score in any of those matches, head coach Bob Bradley does not seemed too worried.
"When you play those kinds of teams, you don't expect you're going to create a lot of chances," he said. "Yet we had some good ones and didn't take advantage. Certainly we, if you look at the last year and a half, have still, you know, overall we've done a pretty good job in terms of scoring goals."
The United States enters Sunday's game against Barbados as the favorite, but Bradley knows that anything can happen and his team will have to play well to win.
"They're always athletic, they have some talented individuals," he said. "They've added some players for World Cup qualifying. I think that you see a team, Caribbean style, some individual flare, and some overall athleticism."
The return leg match will be one week later, June 22, in Barbados, with the aggregate winner moving on to the next round.
There, the 12 teams that advanced will be placed into three groups of four and play a round-robin style of tournament. The group winners and runners-up move on to the final stage, where those six teams form one round-robin group. The top three teams qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place team will play a home-and-away playoff series against the fifth-place South American team for another berth.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley says he knows his team must get off to a good start against Barbados.
"Clearly in a home game it is our responsibility to attack," he said. "The ability to handle the ball well, mix up our attack, are all important things sometimes in creating chances against a team that may indeed choose to keep a lot of numbers [defense players] back."
One regional second round, first-leg match has already been played, and Honduras won at home over Puerto Rico, 4-0.
Other match-ups in the second round include highly-ranked Mexico against Belize; Guatemala versus St. Lucia; Trinidad and Tobago against Bermuda, Antigua and Barbuda against Cuba; Jamaica versus the Bahamas; St. Vincent and the Grenadines against Canada; Grenada against Costa Rica; Suriname versus Guyana; Panama versus El Salvador; Haiti verse Netherlands Antilles.