[WORLD CUP 2010 QUALIFYING] Given its choice, the USA would rather not go into the final day of Hexagonal play with its 2010 World Cup fate still in doubt. Unless it can beat Honduras Saturday in San Pedro Sula, the Americans - despite sitting atop the Hexagonal with 16 points -- will likely take the field at RFK Stadium against Costa Rica Wednesday for its 10th and final Hexagonal match needing at least a tie to clinch a spot in the 2010 competition.
"Certainly our thoughts with regard to the Honduras game start with the idea that we have the opportunity to go there and go for the win," says U.S. coach Bob Bradley, who must also juggle a roster that includes nine players carrying yellow cards. "We will pay attention to the score in Costa Rica as both games move along but going in, it's an opportunity to play aggressively, to know from the start that playing for the first goal, being aggressive, trying to put Honduras on the defensive would all be things we would like to accomplish."
Should Trinidad & Tobago somehow upset the Ticos on Saturday, the Americans would qualify regardless of their result in San Pedro Sula, where a frenzied crowd of 45,000 at the Estadio Olimpico will roar on a team bearing the dreams of a politically torn nation that hasn't seen its national team play in a World Cup since 1982.
Whether the Americans can turn their foes' energy and passion into tension and anxiety that can be exploited could depend on how the USA starts the game. It has been plagued this year by conceding early goals, not only in the Hexagonal but also in the Gold Cup and Confederations Cup, and falling behind early might erase any chance of getting a victory.
"The main thing that we have talked a little bit about and are very aware of is the fact that this game means everything to Honduras and to its people and that the atmosphere in the stadium will be loud, passionate and exciting," said Bradley. "We have seen that in other places, so we draw the parallels and draw up on those experiences. I think that will work well for us."
Eight years ago, the Americans posted a rare Hexagonal away win when they beat Honduras, 2-1, in the same venue. That match, though, came early in the schedule, and Honduras famously reversed the result six months later by beating the U.S., 3-2, at RFK Stadium.
This year, the teams have already played three times, with the U.S. posting a 2-1 Hexagonal win in June and beating the Catrachos twice in the Gold Cup.
Honduras (13 points) is in third place, two points behind second-place Mexico, which hosts El Salvador on Saturday.
"The games we've played against them in the United States have been difficult, so we know they're a strong team," says U.S. midfielder Benny Feilhaber, who has never played in Honduras but has faced the Catrachos twice this year and might get the call Saturday to replace the injured Clint Dempsey. "In order for us to win the game we're going to have to come out and really put pressure on them and force them to make mistakes."