CHICAGO (Nov. 22, 2008) — The United States will continue its bid to qualify for its sixth consecutive World Cup finals on Feb. 11 against Mexico at home. The final round draw for 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifying was announced this morning from Johannesburg, South Africa.
The U.S., along with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and Trinidad & Tobago, will compete in the 10-game round-robin format from Feb. 11-Oct. 14, 2009, with the top three teams automatically advancing to the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. The fourth-place team will compete in a two-game playoff to be held Nov. 14 and Nov. 18 against the fifth-place finisher in South American qualifying.
Drawn as Team 6 in the Final Round format, the U.S. faces a tricky road to South Africa as they open up against their biggest rival in the region at home and never has any consecutive home dates. The U.S. plays a fairly balanced schedule, bouncing between home and away matches, only to have back-to-back away games late in the qualifying stretch for Matches 8 and 9. Venues for the USA’s five home matches will be announced as they are finalized.
All of the match dates for Final Round qualifying are scheduled to take place on dates set aside for international play on the FIFA Coordinated Calendar for 2009.
After playing Mexico, the U.S. kicks off their away schedule of the qualifying campaign against El Salvador on March 28, and then returns home on April 1 to face Trinidad & Tobago. The halfway point for the Hexagonal arrives in June, with the U.S. facing Costa Rica away on June 3 and then returning to the U.S. to host Honduras on June 6, which will complete the first half of the Final Round. The Costa Rica match was moved from June 10 to June 3 to accomodate the USA's participation in the Confederations Cup.
The second stand-alone date of the Final Round falls on Aug. 12 with the U.S. traveling to the unfriendly confines of Mexico. The U.S. will have two straight double dates, starting with hosting El Salvador on Sept. 5 before heading to Trinidad & Tobago on Sept. 9. The three teams that will automatically advance to the 2010 FIFA World Cup will be decided on the final double date, which begins for the United States on Oct. 10 away to Honduras. The U.S. concludes the final round on Oct. 14 at home against Costa Rica.
The United States has qualified for five consecutive World Cup finals, amassing a lifetime record of 53-31-28 in World Cup qualifying play. With a record of 34-6-11 on U.S. soil, the team has lost only one home qualifier since 1985.
The U.S. advanced to the final round hexagonal as winners of Group 1, going 5-1-0 in the semifinal phase. The United States captured their first-ever road qualifying win in Guatemala, then defeated Cuba in the team’s first visit to the island nation since 1947. At home the U.S. continued to dominate, collecting a convincing 3-0 shutout victory against Trinidad & Tobago and a 6-1 win against Cuba that saw the U.S. qualified before the round’s conclusion. Dating back to the start of the second round, the U.S. won six consecutive qualifiers, setting the record for most consecutive games won in one cycle (set during qualifying for Germany 2006). The U.S. also posted three straight road victories in qualifying for the first time ever.
The U.S. and Costa Rica are nearly evenly split throughout the series history, each team maintaining dominance on home soil. The U.S. has never won a qualifying match in Costa Rica, going 0-6-1 lifetime. The teams met in the final round of 2006 World Cup qualifying, with the U.S. turning in one of their finest performances of the stage in the 3-0 win on June 4, 2005, in front of a raucous crowd in Salt Lake. With the U.S. already through to Germany, the Ticos returned the favor by earning a matching 3-0 scoreline on the return leg in San Jose on Oct. 8 at Estadio Saprissa. Costa Rica breezed through to the Final Round as the only team in CONCACAF that remains undefeated in qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The Ticos manhandled Group 3 that included El Salvador, Haiti, and Suriname, pumping in 20 goals while surrendering only three.
The U.S. has dominated the series against El Salvador, with only a single blemish on the 13-1-4 lifetime record. The U.S. has been particularly imposing in World Cup Qualifying, posting an unbeaten 4-0-2 record. The teams last squared off in the semifinal phase of qualifying for Germany, the U.S. collecting a pair of 2-0 wins in Foxboro and San Salvador. El Salvador has been in it since the first round, pounding Anguilla by an aggregate score of 16-0 before getting past Panama in the second phase in a series that included an impressive 1-0 win in Panama City. Drawn with Costa Rica, Suriname and Haiti, the Salvadorans comfortably took second place in Group 3 while posting a 3-1-2 record.
The U.S. and Honduras have one of the more unusual histories between CONCACAF teams in qualifying. While they have played only four times, three of those matches took place in Honduras. The teams met in the final round of qualifying for Korea/Japan, the U.S. pulling off a 2-1 a win in San Pedro Sula on the strength of goals by Clint Mathis and Earnie Stewart. Then on Sept. 1, 2001, in Washington, D.C., a quick goal by Stewart looked promising for the U.S., but Honduras stormed back to a 3-2 win to hand the U.S. their last home loss in World Cup qualifying to date. Coincidentally, it was the Honduras home loss to Trinidad & Tobago coupled with the U.S. win against Jamaica on Oct. 7, 2001, that guaranteed the USA’s ticket to Korea.
Honduras had one of the hardest mountains to climb in qualifying and can proudly claim they reached the summit. The Catrachos were drawn into the most difficult of groups along with Mexico, Jamaica and Canada. After narrowly losing out away to Mexico in the opening game, Honduras reeled off three straight wins before falling to Jamaica in Kingston, setting up the dramatic final day. Needing a win to guarantee their place in the final round, the Hondurans pulled off a 1-0 shutout to vault past Mexico and claim first place in the group.
While Mexico holds a major lead in the all-time qualifying series, the U.S. has most certainly pulled even in the modern era. The United States has not lost at home to Mexico in a World Cup qualifier since 1972, and played two of their most memorable games in the previous two hexagonals. In the ‘Guerra Fria’ in Columbus on Feb. 28, 2001, goals by Josh Wolff and Earnie Stewart lifted the U.S. to a 2-0 victory, a result that would be repeated a few times over. On Sept. 3, 2005, it was Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley’s turn to tally as another 2-0 victory booked the USA’s ticket to Germany. It’s been another story in Mexico, where the United States has never won (0-12-1), the lone draw coming Nov. 2, 1997, in Mexico City.
Playing their first three games of the Semifinal Round at home after hurricane damage forced Jamaica to switch their schedule, Mexico quickly grabbed nine points. After a loss to Jamaica away, the Mexicans were twice forced to come from behind to earn a point against already-eliminated Canada, setting up an intriguing final match day. They were leading the group on points, but a slip in Honduras combined with a big Jamaica victory could have seen them eliminated from competition. An own goal sank their efforts in the 1-0 loss in Honduras, and Jamaica nearly pulled off the miracle when they won 3-0 against Canada. Tied on points, it was Mexico who inched through to the final round on goal differential.
The U.S. holds a 14-2-3 lifetime record against Trinidad & Tobago, with the series dating back to 1982. The U.S. can also claim 10 shutouts against the Soca Warriors, with six of those coming on home turf. It has been more than 12 years since Trinidad & Tobago have scored during their travels to the U.S., with the last goal coming during a 3-2 loss in 1996 in Anaheim, Calif. The U.S. has owned the series in World Cup qualifying (9-1-2), although T&T will be buoyed by the 2-1 win on Oct. 15 in Port-of-Spain, their first-ever in qualifying against the United States. The teams met in the 2006 edition of final round qualifying; in fact, they met on the opening day of the group. Goals by Eddie Johnson and Eddie Lewis gave the U.S. a nice three points on the road to start the hexagonal, and then Brian McBride did the business in the 1-0 win on Aug. 17, 2005, in East Hartford.
Seeming to be battling Guatemala from the get-go for the second spot in the semifinal group, the teams shared the spoils by each earning a draw on the world. T&T capitalized on the penultimate matchday of the round, defeating the U.S. for the first time in World Cup qualifying history while Guatemala disastrously lost at Cuba. Already in the driver’s seat, the Soca Warriors ended all doubt by winning handily at home against the Cubans to move on to the final round.
The U.S. reached the Semifinal Round of qualifying after defeating Barbados by an aggregate score of 9-0 in the second round. The U.S. easily handled the visitors 8-0 on June 15 in Carson, Calif., the eight-goal win earning the record as the largest margin of victory ever in U.S. Men’s National Team history. The U.S. then fought through a rain-soaked field to win 1-0 at the Kensington Oval in Bridgetown, Barbados, six days later.
Following is the complete Final Round schedule: