The Yanks rarely do anything easy. Last night in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago, it took a wunderstrike from midfielder Ricardo Clark in the sixty second minute to get the Americans a full three points during what can best be described as an "uneven" performance. A win is a win, and three points is three points, so any consternation on the part of the fans might be a touch unseemly, especially as the US, thanks to Honduras' 1-0 loss to Mexico at Azteca, now sits back atop the Hexagonal table.
The Americans looked lethargic and lazy, with several players making minimal contributions. Even Landon Donovan, the dynamo in the midfield who runs enough to make Forrest Gump jealous, was off his game. Rarely did the US threaten beyond a half-chance, and never did they seem dominant. T&T, with the speed of Carlos Edwards and the physicality of Kenwyne Jones, put some pressure on the American back line and forced Tim Howard into a few important saves. Perhaps the US wasn't "lucky" to leave the islands with three points, because good teams win games when they don't play their best; Bob Bradley's team certainly did that, and it would be unfair to put a dismissive label Clark's second goal as a US international.
With six points in five days and the Hex lead back in their possession, I find it just a little difficult to be overly critical of the players or Bob Bradley. While the victory over El Salvador wasn't pretty (though I still think the US player better than many people believe), and last night's performance frustrated many of us for most, if not all, of the match, the only objective at the moment is to qualify. Whether or not we're seeing the Americans' best is somewhat beside the point; the only job is to win, and they've managed to do it twice in less than a week.
There is, of course, something to be said for doing what your supposed to, and not leaving the outcome up to a long range goal from a player who shouldn't be counted on to score. The American attack couldn't find any momentum until late in the match, with things opened up a bit by Clark's blast. Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore didn't play particularly well, and right sided midfielder Clint Dempsey was missing in action for most of the night. Donovan's efforts almost invariably ended in disappointment, with a lot of movement but very little incisive action. The few times that Donovan did get himself into dangerous positions or was able to get in on goal, his shots were weak or poorly directed.
And then we bounce back to this. The Americans are on the verge of guaranteeing their place in South Africa. Costa Rica is a shell of their early Hex self, Mexico's push still has them a few points behind the Yanks, Honduras deserved better (maybe) but came away with nothing in Mexico City, and the relatively steady Americans sit in the catbird seat.
One result, be it victory or draw, in their last two matches will put the US back in the World Cup for a sixth consecutive time. That's no easy feat, and we should thank our lucky stars that US Soccer has progress to the point that we can criticize our team in a victory. Not every nation has that luxury.
Three points is three points. Honduras is next in Honduras on October 10, with a home match to the crumbling Costa Rica four days later on October 14th. I'll be happy with three points in either match, no matter the nature of the victory, because it will mean qualification. That was the goal; qualify, and try to get better before 2010. Bradley might have his work cut out for him on the latter, but he's on the edge of achieving the former.
Now, if they can just take that next step and somehow get a win on the road in Central America...
Video of all of the CONCACAF qualifying goals from last night: