Last year, the USA began the semifinal round of Concacaf 2010 World Cup qualifying by winning in Guatemala for the first time. Its first away test in the Hexagonal comes Saturday (TV: 9
p.m. ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura) in San Salvador, a city in which it has won and tied in two previous qualifying visits, so a victory won't be as historic. But it will be no less important,
especially should Mexico, which lost 2-0 to the USA in Columbus last month, fail to beat Costa Rica in Azteca Stadium.
Costa Rica is tied for first place atop the Hexagonal with the
same record (1-0-0) and goal difference (plus 2) as the USA after beating Honduras, 2-0, on Feb. 11. The Salvadorans are rated the weakest of the six Hexagonal teams, and needed a late two-goal
rally to pull out a 2-2 tie against Trinidad & Tobago in San Salvador on the first day of play.
They may be overmanned with slim hopes of advancing, yet the Salvadorans will also be
desperate. They restored some confidence after conceding two goals in the first half, and Osael Romero
matched Michael Bradley
's dual strikes against Mexico by
netting in the 82nd and 90th minutes against T&T.
This being the first of four double-dates on the 2009 FIFA calendar, Coach Bob Bradley
has assembled a squad of 22
players for the quick turnaround. The Americans play T&T on Wednesday in Nashville, Tenn., and regardless of Saturday's results, the dings and bruises incurred may open up opportunities for
Bradley to go deep into his squad. Steve Cherundolo
is sidelined with a strained right hip, so Frankie Hedjuk
is again the first choice at right
back, as he was against Mexico. All 11 starters, and 15 of the 18 players named to the game-day roster against Mexico are again on hand, but the lineup won't be the same.
is suspended, and though Brad Guzan
is the heir-apparent, neither he nor Marcus Hahnemann
has seen much action lately. Guzan played
seven games in various cup competitions before being summoned last week to replace a red-carded Freidel in a 5-0 battering at Liverpool. Guzan surrendered a goal on a penalty kick as
completed the rout with 25 minutes to play.
Hahnemann recently recovered from a torn calf muscle that sidelined him for nearly three months. He's
played three first-team games for Reading since his return.
Who to play in goal isn't nearly so important as whether midfielder Pablo Mastroeni
, who sat out the
Mexico game with a suspension, gets back into the starting lineup. Pairing Mastroeni with Michael Bradley
in the middle could push Sacha Kljestan
to the right
side or out of the lineup entirely, unless Coach Bradley opts to start Landon Donovan
and Clint Dempsey
Bradley also has forwards
, Jozy Altidore
and Eddie Johnson
, whose recent play for Cardiff City earned him his first call-up since coming on as a sub Sept. 10
against T&T in Bridgeview, Ill. Johnson's amazing record of eight goals in nine qualifiers began in 2004 when he scored against El Salvador in his U.S. debut, but his only goal in 2008 came in an
8-0 rout of Barbados.
Ching scored in his last two qualifying starts: in that game against T&T, and a month later in a 6-1 rout of Cuba at RFK Stadium.
absences due to injury have kept defenders Jay DeMerit
and Jonathan Spector
out of the picture. Both can play centrally in relief of Carlos
or Oguchi Onyewu
, and have some experience at outside back.
"The games against El Salvador and Trinidad & Tobago represent a big opportunity to
solidify our place in the group," says Coach Bradley. "We had a fantastic team effort against Mexico, and if we put in the same type of performance we are confident of being able to get
The heaviest portion of the 2009 schedule follows these two games; two more qualifiers in early June, followed by the Confederations Cup in the middle of the month, and
the Gold Cup in July. What happens Saturday and Wednesday will shape some of the choices Bradley makes for June and July.