On Thursday evening, the U.S. national team arrived at the Hotel Melia
Cohiba, two blocks from Havana's charming Malecon, the four-mile waterfront walkway. Before heading for the team dinner, Coach Bob Bradley
significance of Saturday's Cuba-USA game (TV: ESPN Classic & Galavision, 8 pm ET), which will most likely be one of the USA's 18 games in 2010 World Cup qualifying.
"We are honored
to represent the United States in this historic occasion to come here and play Cuba," said Bradley. "It's exciting for all of our players. We have clearly a good idea of the importance of this
match for both teams.
"I don't think there's extra pressure, but we do understand the fact that this game will bring extra attention. We really motivate ourselves at times knowing
that more people than usual will follow the match, and that it's an opportunity always to show off our team, our character, our ability."
The USA started the semifinal road of
qualifying with a 1-0 win at Guatemala, while Cuba fell, 3-1, at home against Trinidad & Tobago.
Two straight home losses are sure to doom Cuba's hopes of reaching the World Cup for
only the second time since in 1938 it became the first Caribbean team to reach the finals. Cuba's loss to the Trinidadians, Bradley believes, will give the Cubans extra incentive for a good
"In all parts of the world you see smaller countries rise to the occasion because of how much is at stake," Bradley said. "We also know that when you play a team that
comes off a difficult game you expect a strong response."
For their part, the Cubans are hoping for a record crowd at the 28,000-seat Estadio Pedro Marrero.
needs the support of the public and it will be a important advantage for our players," said Cuba's German coach, Reinhold Fanz
, on Wednesday.
sure, the team that struggled against Trinidad & Tobago will need all the help it can get.
"To win against the USA will be difficult but not impossible," Fanz said. "The players know
they have to take charge of the game. We made some modifications and have strengthened our midfield. We will not play with fear. We'll take an attacking posture, with order."
USA -- whose next game is against the Trinidadians in Illinois on Wednesday -- starting with two road wins would put it in a fine position to cruise into the final round.
The top two
finishers of the semifinal phase advance to the six-team, home-and-home final round. The top three finishers in the final-round group qualify for South Africa 2010 and the fourth-place finisher
plays off with South America's No. 5 team for what could be Concacaf's fourth spot.
For a team that brings in more than half its roster from Europe, clinching a final-round spot
early on could prove beneficial. It would allow foreign-based players to stay with their clubs - increasing their chances to keep or win starting jobs - while giving Bradley the opportunity to test
"That could be something that works in your favor, but coaches tend not to think ahead that way," said Bradley. "Should you get to that point, the possibility to get
different players experience is something we've worked hard to do in the last year and a half."
But for now the focus is on Cuba.
"We know that this game will get extra
attention," said Bradley, "and it's always exciting to play in that type of situation."