(Saturday, November 22, 2008) -- The United States men open the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying February 11 at home against arch-rival Mexico, it was determined this morning in a draw in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The U.S., along with Mexico, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago, El Salvador and Costa Rica, will compete in the 10-match final round robin, trying to earn a berth in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The top three of the six nations qualify, while fourth-place team will face South America's fifth-place team in a two-match playoff for another spot in South Africa.
Following the opener against Mexico, the Americans travel to El Salvador March 28, then return home April 1 to play Trinidad & Tobago. In June, the U.S. faces Costa Rica June 3 on the road, then returns home to host Honduras three days later.
On August 12, the Americans travel to Mexico City's Estadio Azteca to meet Mexico in the heat, smog and altitude of a venue where the U.S. has never won a qualifier. The U.S. hosts El Salvador September 5, before heading to T&T September 9. The hexagonal ends in October with the Americans going San Pedro Sula to face Honduras October 10 and hosting Costa Rica four days later.
"Certainly, when you look at the schedule and see we start at home to Mexico and our last game is home to Costa Rica, then things have fallen quite nicely," U.S. manager Bob Bradley said. "The expectation is always that the last round will be very competitive, but it's clearly a good outcome for us."
The U.S. Soccer Federation will take some time to develop the venues for its home qualifiers, but it's a safe bet the opener against Mexico will take place at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The Americans hosted Mexico in Columbus in the last two final qualifying rounds and won the 2001 and 2005 matches by the same 2-0 scores. Judging by history, the Mexicans don't enjoy playing in the winter cold of Columbus and relatively few of Mexico's fans are able to acquire tickets or make the trip.
Getting Mexico in the first match is fortunate for the Americans. Mexico will have to play without two starters, midfielder Gerardo Torrado and striker Carlos Vela, who both were red carded in Mexico's 1-0 loss to Honduras Wednesday in the final semifinal qualifying match. Vela received a straight red for striking former Major League Soccer midfielder Ramon Núñez, while Torrado was sent off after getting a second yellow card.
June will be a difficult month for the Americans. Already, the road match against Costa Rica has been moved from June 10 to June 3 to accommodate the U.S. participation in the Confederations Cup in South Africa. That competition starts June 14 and the Americans will be in a formidable group with Brazil, Italy and Egypt.
It was also determined in a draw in Johannesburg this morning that the U.S. will face Italy June 15, Brazil June 18 and close out group play June 21 with Egypt. The top two teams from each of two groups advance to a semifinal round.
South Africa, New Zealand, Spain and Iraq comprise the other group.
The U.S. will also be busy in July with the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament for the region of North America, Central America and the Caribbean.