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Goal.com's Allen Ramsey examines what the U.S. will need to do to assure automatic qualification to the World Cup starting with Wednesday night's match against Trinidad and Tobago.

By Allen Ramsey
 
PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad--Tonight's World Cup qualifier at Hasely Crawford Crawford Stadium is a massive tie for the United States Men's National Team. With three points against one of the Hexagonal bottom feeders and a good result from the match between a struggling Costa Rica side and El Salvador in San Salvador, the U.S. could be well on its way to securing one of the three automatic spots in the World Cup allotted to CONCACAF teams. 

Still, relying on results from matches you're not involved in is a dangerous game. U.S. manager Bob Bradley was quick to point out how important it was for his team to focus on getting points for themselves when he spoke to media after training last night.

"At this point our focus in on ourselves," he said. "The way the group has gone you can’t expect results from other teams; you have to take care of points yourself."

Bradley and the U.S. players all said that they would not be underestimating the Soca Warriors. It was clear that the attitude the U.S. team had was one of a team that was in desperate need of a result on the road to help them avoid the pitfalls of finishing fourth in the Hex.

"It’s the last thing that any of the players want because of all the travel," midfielder Clint Dempsey said of avoiding the fourth spot. "There are a lot of players playing in Europe and, depending on where the game is, you know it’s going to be a home and away, so no one would be looking forward to all that traveling. We have to be thinking that we want to finish as high as we can in the group."

One problem the U.S. will need to avoid is another slow start. Throughout the Hexagonal round the Red, White and Blue have been hampered by giving up early goals. While they recovered well against Honduras, other games have matches have not been so forgiving. Another stumbling start and the U.S. could be in a bad position heading into two tough matches to close out the group.

"That has been something that we’ve had to deal with in three of our qualifiers," Bradley said on Tuesday. "We’ve talked about it. We talked about it at Confederations Cup. Concentration at the beginning of the game, managing the game properly, good decisions, good energy. Hopefully those are things we’ll have tomorrow."

Another pitfall for the U.S. has been sitting back on a lead and trying to defend against waves of attack. After the Mexico loss, Dempsey called the tactic of sitting back frustrating, but explained more last night.


"It’s finding that balance of staying compact and picking your moments to get forward," the midfielder said, echoing comments that his manager made last week. "On the flip side, you’re winning 2-1 like we were against El Salvador and we’re pushing so much to get the goal that we left ourselves a little bit exposed at times because we’re pushing so hard to get that extra goal. So it’s finding that balance and we’re still working on that, but that won’t be the worst thing if we’re leading a goal up and trying to keep that. Hopefully we’ll be in that situation because I think we have the character to get the three points if we do have the lead."

One big concern for the U.S. in the past has been finding goals. Dempsey has chipped in with four in the last five games while fellow veteran Landon Donovan has tacked on a number of assists, but the Fulham star seemed confident that the entire team could do the job.

“I think Michael (Bradley) and Benny (Feilhaber), whoever is in the midfield, they do a good job of linking up, keeping possession for us,” he said. “Me and Landon have to be looking to try and get in the pockets and try to link up with the forwards. Our forwards have been making great runs. Charlie (Davies) is really good at running in the channels and getting the ball behind the defense and linking up with us when we catch up with him. Jozy (Altidore) has been doing a good job of holding the ball up and getting goals. So right now if you’re looking in our attack there are people who are scoring goals. Charlie scored in Mexico, Jozy and me scored last game, Landon is getting assists. So we’re a team that is playing well in the attack I think.”


Dempsey also said that starting two young strikers was not a concern and that it actually bodes well for the future.

“That’s great that we have such young players who are doing so well and I think that’s just a sign of things to come in the future,” he said. “I think that the state of U.S. soccer is in a good position and we’re looking forward to people continuing to better themselves, but right now I think we have a solid team and I think we are moving in the right direction because of the way we did in the Confederations Cup.  But yeah, that’s great that we have such young guys with the experience that they have and doing so well in the World Cup qualifying rounds.”

Allen Ramsey in an associate editor for Goal.com USA. The Short List runs every Wednesday on Goal.com

If you follow the U.S. Men's National Team, you'll love the dedicated page on Goal.com

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