SAN PEDRO SULA -- Sunil Gulati could hardly wait for the referee to signal the end of the match and confirm the USA's win over Honduras and therefore, qualification the the 2010 World Cup.
"We were right next to the fourth official when the final whistle blew," recalled the head administrator of U.S. Soccer.
With qualification secured, Gulati was unruffled by the many criticisms directed towards the USA team after losses on the road to Mexico and Costa Rica.
"That's part of the job," Gulati insisted. "We don't have a lot of players playing in Man U
and Barcelona. We're getting there. Those are some of the best clubs in
the world and there aren't a lot of players playing there. So for
people's expectations to be that we're going to go out and play like
that or have a high-level performance every time - that's not the
case. A lot of the top teams in the world would struggle to get a
result here [Honduras] or in Costa Rica and certainly in Mexico."
In fact, the USA's win in Honduras was only their second road victory of the entire hexagonal round.
"We grind some of those out," Gulati said of away games. "Winning here, when they've been 8-0
here, is a pretty damn good result, with how much this game meant to
the Honduran team and the federation and country."
Even though Honduras missed a late penalty opportunity, Gulati considered the USA's win a hard-earned triumph.
"You need breaks along the way," Gulati said of the missed penalty. "We got a break there."
In the aftermath of the victory, Gulati seemed most proud of how his faith in coach Bob Bradley had been justified.
"I'm sure someone out there will criticize him because Conor (Casey) didn't get
a hat trick out there today, and maybe Jozy would have," Gulati said, in a passing reference to the criticism that has constantly dogged Bradley, an unglamorous choice as coach when Gulati appointed him in 2007 to the post.
Even after the qualification spot was sealed for the USA, Gulati was still defending his coach.
"He has the
winningest percentage of any coach we've ever had, we've gotten to the
final of a major FIFA competition, we won the Gold Cup that was
critical to us and got to the final of the most recent Gold Cup with a
relatively young team," Gulati asserted. "I'm not sure what more we can ask."
Though this is his first World Cup qualification as president, Gulati has been involved with U.S. Soccer for many years, and he reflected back on how far the team had come since first qualifying to the World Cup in the modern era of the sport in 1990.
"Six consecutive world cups - not many teams have done that," Gulati observed. "It's an
emotional day for everybody, but for us to qualify early, which we've
done every time since we qualified 20 years ago against Trinidad -
great joy and frankly, great relief."
Noah Davis, Goal.com, with assistance from Andrea Canales in Los Angeles
Visit the U.S. national team page on Goal.com for more