COUVA, Trinidad (AP) — The final path to the World Cup involved an unexpected water crossing for the United States.
Heavy rain on this Caribbean island 7½ miles off the coast of Venezuela left the center of the field soggy at Ato Boldon Stadium, the flanks underwater and the encircling running track flooded. While the team’s 10,000 pounds of equipment included 200 boots, 65 balls, 60 rain jackets and 30 cases of Powerade, a Bailey bridge was not in the inventory, so many American players were carried onto the field in an attempt to keep their feet somewhat dry for the final training session before Tuesday’s match at Trinidad and Tobago.
The U.S. would secure its eighth straight World Cup berth with a win and almost certainly with a tie because of the Americans’ superior goal difference.
A defeat would lead to elimination if Panama beats visiting Costa Rica and Honduras wins at home against Mexico. If the U.S. loses and one of those fails to win, the Americans would advance to a two-match playoff next month against Australia or Syria. If both Central American rivals fail to win, the U.S. would qualify even with a defeat.
Losses in home qualifiers to Mexico in November and Costa Rica last month put the U.S. in this precarious position. The Americans had not entered their last qualifier uncertain of a berth since November 1989, when Paul Caligiuri’s 30th-minute goal gave them a 1-0 win at Trinidad and put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.
Back then, the U.S. needed a win, and T&T would have reached its first World Cup with merely a draw. American players then felt a burden this generation does not.
“It was also what was on the line for U.S. Soccer. We were broke,” Caligiuri said last weekend. “We’d be stripped from the World Cup and not host it in 1994. The majority of us would not have jobs. We wouldn’t be playing professional soccer.”
That match was in Port-of-Spain’s National Stadium before an overflow crowd of 35,000 that arrived hours early. This one is 24 miles south near the world’s largest methanol factory, in a 16-year-old 10,000-capacity venue named after a gold medal-winning Olympic sprinter.
NOTES: The referee is Juan Carlos Guerra of Guatemala, who worked the Americans’ exhibition against New Zealand last October. … A player carrying a yellow would be suspended for a playoff opener if he gets a card Tuesday. Single yellow cards are wiped out if the U.S. qualifies, but an American who gets two yellow cards Tuesday or a red would be suspended for the World Cup opener if the U.S qualifies.
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