The path to Canada is set for the U.S. women's national team.
Jill Ellis will lead Abby Wambach, Alex Morgan & Co. against Guatemala, Haiti and Trinidad & Tobago in next month's CONCACAF Women's Championship – which doubles as the World Cup qualifying tournament – with the opponents and schedule determined during a draw in Florida Friday morning.
The other group in the competition consists of Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Martinique.
The eight teams will contend for three automatic places in next summer's tournament, for which Canada has already cemented a berth as the host nation. The fourth-place finisher will face a South American team in an intercontinental playoff for another place in the World Cup. Martinique, however, as a non-FIFA nation, is ineligible to reach the World Cup.
While the qualification for the 2011 Women's World Cup proved to be surprisingly treacherous for the USA, this time around shouldn't provide as much resistance. Four years ago, CONCACAF only had two automatic berths, meaning the winners of the semifinal matches (the top two teams in each group advanced to the semis) punched their ticket.
The USA lost to Mexico in stunning fashion in the semis, though, thus needing to win the third-place match and then an intercontinental playoff against Italy just to reach the grand stage.
The Americans did and went onto reach the final against Japan, falling in penalties.
TOP 10 USA GOALS: Wambach saves women vs. Brazil
With three auto berths available this time and a relatively easy group ahead of them, the U.S. women, ranked No. 1 in the world, have a favorable path and a larger margin for error.
The quest to reach the World Cup begins Oct. 15 against Trinidad & Tobago at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, and continues Oct. 17 against Guatemala at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. Group play wraps up Oct. 20 against Haiti at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. The all-important semifinals, third-place game and final will be held at PPL Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, Oct. 24 and 26.