PARK CITY, Utah -- It's almost certain that the U.S. won't clinch a World Cup berth in this week's important qualifiers -- that would require two U.S. wins and two Mexico losses -- but the third-place Americans have almost zero margin for error in a tight four-team race for three automatic spots in South Africa 2010.
What's more, considering this week's foes are the two bottom-feeders in the CONCACAF Hexagonal -- El Salvador (8 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPN Classic) and Trinidad and Tobago (7 p.m. ET, Sept. 9, ESPN Classic) -- six points are certainly desirable for the Americans, four points would be disappointing and anything less than four would be cause for major alarm.
This is the week that we'll learn how deep this U.S. roster really is. For starters, coach
When the U.S. faces a trickier game in Port of Spain next Wednesday, the Yanks' depth no doubt will be challenged again, not least because nine players are one yellow card against El Salvador away from a one-game suspension:
But the biggest test of the U.S.' depth against El Salvador may come as the result of Bradley's own lineup decisions in a game where the U.S. figures to attack far more than it did against Mexico last month.
Keep in mind, though, the onus is on the U.S. to attack what should be a conservative defensive strategy by El Salvador (
Another intriguing piece of camp info: Altidore may not yet be fully ready for 90 minutes of international soccer after training very little on the ball between the Confederations Cup final (on June 28) and the Mexico game, an issue that got extended when Altidore's visa problems kept him from joining Hull City for its first two Premier League games. One possibility for Saturday involves moving Dempsey to forward (see below), where he has played recently for Fulham, and starting
Ultimately, the task against El Salvador isn't complicated: The U.S. must win this game and has no business qualifying for the World Cup if it can't hold serve on home soil against one of the region's weaker teams. Building a first-half lead (and not just sitting on it) would certainly relieve much of the angst that would come if the U.S. goes into the halftime locker room without an advantage on the scoreboard.
The history of U.S. vs. El Salvador isn't all that colorful, except for the time in 1997 when
Check back on Saturday before and after the game for SI.com's coverage of U.S.-El Salvador with the estimable