Now what? Well, first of course there is the matter of trying to win the group with a victory Wednesday at home over Costa Rica. The match, to be played at Washington’s RFK Stadium, won’t do much at all for the USA with regard to World Cup seeding I don’t believe. And the US will be facing a team with everything to play for, as Costa Rica tries to avoid finishing fourth and having to face a South American club in a playoff (Uruguay sits in that 5th CONMEBOL spot right now, but hosts 4th-place Argentina in the finale Wednesday).
It’s been a qualification run of extremes for US fans, from the excitement of another 2-0 win over Mexico in Columbus back in February, to struggling to even get a point at El Salvador, to the constant call, sometimes at a low simmer, sometimes at a rapid boil, to replace coach Bob Bradley. And after the 2-1 loss at Mexico, there seemed to be a small bit of skepticism as to whether or not the US would even make the World Cup at all.
I think as this final round of qualifying went on, more and more felt the US was going to need at least a point vs. Costa Rica on the final day to get in. I thought perhaps four points was the most the US was going to get out of the just completed two road matches – which as things worked out, would have left the Americans with work to do, sitting on 17 points for second place, while Honduras would have had 14 in fourth. You would have certainly liked the USA’s chances of getting a home point Wednesday given that scenario, but it’s quite the relief that we don’t have to worry about it, isn’t it?
So the question then is, what do you make of Bradley and his squad now? I don’t ask this in any kind of mocking, or I-told-you-so way. I had doubts as to whether he and his team would reach this point. To say I’ve been a Bradley Believer all along would be a joke.
But his task over the course of these 10 games was simply to survive and advance. Get the points required to qualify our nation for the World Cup – what will be the USA’s sixth consecutive appearance. Of note, the only other nations that can make that claim are Italy, Brazil, Germany (as West Germany in 1990), Spain, and South Korea. That’s pretty good footballing company. Note: Argentina could too, if they qualify.
People can fairly wonder about Bradley’s lineups sometimes, and the substitution patterns still seem a bit odd to me now and then. But no coach is perfect, either. And let’s be honest, I saw multiple folks post in various venues last night proclaim that Conor Casey needed to hit the bench at halftime. Then, he went out and scored the game-tying and go-ahead goals. That doesn’t mean Bradley is a genius, or that the fans were foolish, but it depends on your perspective I guess. Either he’s brilliant because he saw a reason to leave Casey on and the player delivered, or he’s foolish for doing so and happened to get lucky, to the tune of winning PowerBall.
If it’s the latter, then there’s not much Bradley can do about it – his moves and decisions are never going to please everybody. And those that truly have it out for him are never going to be satisfied – even a run to the World Cup semifinals would leave a small percentage of fans second-guessing everything they saw.
But for me, this is a time to put any criticisms of Bradley aside. Going on the road for these two matches and getting six points to clinch qualification is a wonderful accomplishment. Honduras hadn’t lost at San Pedro Sula in more than six years – and it was nice to turn it around and beat them there after the disaster at RFK in 2001. No, I don’t hold a grudge. Me?
In short, beating Honduras away is no small accomplishment for the US side, and it should be celebrated. And reaching the World Cup for the sixth consecutive time is really amazing, when you think about it (even though the US was automatically entered in 1994 as hosts). Like him or not, Bradley and this team did the job, and with one game to spare. That’s about as much as we could have realistically asked for.
Does that mean we’re guaranteed success in South Africa? Absolutely not. But there’s no way to judge that now, short of knowing the draw. Bradley enters a new, equally vital stage beginning Wednesday, with regard to putting together the absolute best roster he can for next year’s World Cup. How he does that, in terms of who is called in, who gets significant minutes, and when/where the US plays over the next 8 months will be the next set of evidence upon which to judge him. We’ll find out the draw on December 4, and certainly there will be no shortage of folks in print and online declaring how the US will advance or crash out within minutes of the draw being completed. Such is the world we live in.
For now, however, I’m putting any second-guessing aside and enjoying the moment.
We’re in … and for now, that’s all that matters.