Eight points earned after six games.
Considering the U.S. came away empty-handed from its first two games of Final Round Qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last November, that haul has been pretty good. In the midst of a 14-match unbeaten streak since Bruce Arena’s return as head coach, the U.S. Men’s National Team has had a resurgent year in 2017, but as the next crucial World Cup Qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras draw closer, there is still a clear realization that work isn’t finished yet.
Just ask team captain Michael Bradley.
“Bruce said to me yesterday that we’ve gotten this far, we’ve turned it around in the right way and we’ve got to make sure we finish the job,” Bradley said. “All the work that we’ve put in this year was for these next four games, to make sure that we can find the right ways in the biggest moments when the light comes up brightest to make sure we get the job done.”
New Jersey-bred from birth, Bradley is among a number of players on the current U.S. MNT roster that have local ties to the Garden State, including longtime international teammate Tim Howard. The veteran goalkeeper who protected the goal for Manchester United and Everton was clear in his excitement to play Friday’s all-important clash against Costa Rica in his home state.
“I’m from this area. I played for the MetroStars, some people probably don’t know that,” the 38-year-old joked about the club that helped launch him to a long career in England. “This was a pipe dream, this stadium in Harrison, and for it to be there and to actually be playing games … there’s nothing like playing in front of a home crowd for me. I don’t think I need to speak much about hyping the game up. It’ll be a full house, and they’ll be ready.”
A win against Costa Rica on Friday would push the U.S. into a tie for second with Los Ticos and provide another major step in the team’s turnaround. From there, road points next Tuesday in Honduras would put the U.S. on the doorstep of qualification, with a small chance to clinch once the games around the region have concluded.
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Whatever the steps may be towards qualification, a continuation of the total team effort responsible for this year’s resurgence must remain consistent. If it does, the team is confident it will book its place in an eighth-straight FIFA World Cup.
“We’re going to need every single guy,” Bradley continued. “Obviously we understand the challenges of playing at home vs. going on the road in CONCACAF, and we’re willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that in five or six weeks’ time we’ve punched that ticket to Russia. I think we have a group of guys who are excited, who realize that the path of this last year has made us stronger and better and then it’s on us to make sure that we can finish the job and allow ourselves to look forward to playing at a World Cup next summer.”