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What the USA must do to close the deal
by Paul Kennedy, September 10th, 2009 7AM



[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] Wednesday's Hexagonal results could not have been more favorable to the USA. Its 1-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago and El Salvador's 1-0 victory over Costa Rica -- on Rudis Corrales' goal in stoppage time -- moved the USA into first place in the Hexagonal and opened up a four-point lead over the sinking Ticos.

The results give the USA multiple ways to close the deal next month, but do pose a quandary for Coach Bob Bradley. Does he go for a win against Honduras on Oct. 10 in San Pedro Sula or save key players for the game four days later against Costa Rica in Washington when a win or tie will clinch a berth in the World Cup finals.

First things first, Wednesday's win clinched no worse than fourth place, but considering Argentina looks like it might finish fifth in South America, no Concacaf will want to finish fourth and risk a playoff date with the Argentines, with or without Diego Maradona in charge.

Here's what it take for the USA to clinch one of the top three spots in the Hexagonal, in order of ease ...

(1) Tie Costa Rica in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 14; or
(2) Beat Costa Rica in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 14; or
(3) Beat Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 10.

(The Catrachos will have three players suspended, including captain Amado Guevara, carded for a foul on Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the sixth minute of stoppage time at the end of their 1-0 loss to Mexico.)

Other qualification scenarios involve Costa Rica, Mexico or Honduras dropping points in their other games. A few of those scenarios are ...

(1) Costa Rica loses to Trinidad & Tobago in San Jose on Oct. 10;
(2) USA ties Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 10 and then Honduras doesn't beat El Salvador in San Salvador on Oct. 14.
(3) USA ties Honduras in San Pedro Sula on Oct. 10 and Costa Rica ties Trinidad & Tobago in San Jose on Oct. 10

Some qualification scenarios involve the USA tying one of its rivals on points, meaning goal differential will break the tie. Here is how the teams stand:

Honduras +6 (14-8)
USA +5 (14-9)
Mexico +3 (12-9)
Costa Rica -4 (9-13)

The most likely qualification scenario involving the tiebreaker ...

-- Costa Rica ties Trinidad & Tobago in San Jose on Oct. 10 (the USA will qualify unless the margin of its losses to Honduras and Costa Rica and the margin of Costa Rica's win over the USA is nine or more goals).

Trin. & Tobago 0 USA 1 (Clark 62)
Mexico 1 (Blanco pen. 75) Honduras 0
El Salvador 1 (Corrales 90) Costa Rica 0
USA 8 5 1 2 14 9 16
Mexico 8 5 0 3 12 9 15
Honduras 8 4 1 3 14 8 13
Costa Rica 8 4 0 4 9 13 12
El Salvador 8 2 2 4 8 10 8
Trin. & Tobago 8 1 2 5 8 16 5
(The top three teams advance to World Cup 2010; the fourth-place team faces the fifth-place team from South America in a playoff.)


October 10
Mexico-El Salvador
Costa Rica-Trin. & Tobago
October 14
El Salvador-Honduras
Trin. & Tobago-Mexico
USA-Costa Rica

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