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SOCCER

World Cup lineup may still be a few weeks coming

The U.S. men's team theoretically could advance in the next few days, but first it must face El Salvador on Saturday.

September 05, 2009|Grahame L. Jones

SALT LAKE CITY — The U.S. men's national soccer team can secure a place in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by Wednesday night.

It is unlikely to happen, but it is theoretically possible.

What has to occur is that the U.S. has to defeat El Salvador in Sandy, Utah, tonight (5 p.m., ESPN Classic and TeleFutura) and then defeat Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on Wednesday.

The Americans are favored to win both games.

In addition, Mexico has to lose to Costa Rica in San Jose, Costa Rica, tonight -- something that is entirely possible -- and also lose to Honduras in Mexico City on Wednesday, which is highly unlikely.

So, chances are, it will not be until October that the North and Central American and Caribbean region's representatives for South Africa 2010 are known.

What these two rounds of qualifying are likely to achieve is to see El Salvador and Trinidad and Tobago mathematically eliminated, leaving Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico and the U.S. to determine which three qualify directly for the World Cup and which goes into a playoff against a South American team.

The four teams are separated by three points and each has four games left.

"You never know how other games are going to go," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said Friday evening after putting his players through their paces at Rio Tinto Stadium. "As it turns out, there are four teams that are right there. It can change quickly, so the most important thing for us is just to concentrate on what we can control, which is a home game and an absolute need for three points."

Bradley's task has been complicated a bit by the loss of both central defenders who helped the U.S. reach the final of the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa in June.

Oguchi Onyewu is serving a suspension after picking up a yellow card in last month's 2-1 loss to Mexico. Jay DeMerit has been sidelined by a mild groin strain.

Carlos Bocanegra probably will fill one of the spots, allowing Chivas USA's Jonathan Bornstein to take over at left back. Bocanegra said the absence of Onyewu and DeMerit will be felt.

"Obviously, they're two big players for us," he said. "Any time you lose players like that, others guys have to step up. I think we have a pretty deep roster now. It'll show tomorrow."

The U.S. has an overwhelming edge against the Central Americans, compiling a 13-1-5 record, including a 4-0-3 mark in World Cup qualifying, and has outscored El Salvador by a cumulative 43 goals to 12.

On paper, therefore, it should be an easy game.

"On paper, it is, we should win," said Galaxy forward Landon Donovan, "but they've had a lot of OK results on the road in qualifying. I think they've figured out a way of playing that they're comfortable with on the road."

El Salvador's road losses to Costa Rica, Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago have all been by only a 1-0 score.

"Our goal tomorrow is to score early, knowing that if it doesn't come early, over 90 minutes we'll break them down and wear them down and get a goal and win it," Donovan said.

That was easier said than done the last time the teams played each other, in San Salvador in late March. El Salvador had a two-goal lead with less than 20 minutes left before the U.S., uninspired until then, rallied for a 2-2 tie.

"They did a good job of counterattacking us down there," Bocanegra said. "So we don't want to get overanxious and overaggressive and leave ourselves exposed at the back because they do have a few quick guys who can get at us and cause us some problems."

There is one worrying note for Bradley as seven of the players he can choose from today are in yellow-card trouble. If Donovan, Jozy Altidore, Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Clint Dempsey or Benny Feilhaber gets booked, they will miss Wednesday's game in Trinidad.

But if they escape sanction only to be yellow-carded in Trinidad, they would miss the potentially far more important match away to Honduras in October.

Donovan, who can set a U.S. record by appearing in his 32nd qualifying game, said he expected the U.S. to take control early and keep it. "We just need to be smart, put them under pressure, keep them in their end and break them down," he said.

In today's other games, Costa Rica, which leads the six-team qualifying group, should be able to get at least a tie against Mexico (7 p.m., Telemundo), while Honduras, unbeaten at home in qualifying, is heavily favored to defeat Trinidad and Tobago in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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World Cup qualifying

In the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the top three countries qualify for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with the fourth- place finisher playing South America's fifth-place team for a Cup berth. Today, the U.S. hosts El Salvador in Utah, Mexico plays at Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago is at Honduras.

With four games to go for each country, here are the regional standings:

*--* Country W-L-D G-Dif Points Costa Rica 4-2-0 0 12 Honduras 3-2-1 +4 10 United States 3-2-1 +3 10 Mexico 3-3-0 -1 9 El Salvador 1-3-2 -2 5 Trinidad & Tobago 1-3-2 -4 5 *--*

Source: FIFA

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