US striv­ing to avoid World Cup play­off against Syria or Aus­tralia


The Malta Independent on Sunday - - SPORT -

Amer­i­can soc­cer play­ers do not want fly over 8,000 miles to Malaysia next month for a play­off against Syria or make a morethan 7,000-mile jour­ney for a match in Aus­tralia.

Af­ter get­ting just one point in two Septem­ber qual­i­fiers, a loss to Panama on Fri­day night would have left the US with one more chance to reach next year’s World Cup: by win­ning a play­off against the fifth-place nation in Asia. And the Amer­i­cans weren’t even as­sured of that.

“We still knew that ev­ery­thing was in our hands. It still is,” de­fender Matt Besler said af­ter Fri­day night’s 4-0 rout of the Pana­ma­ni­ans lifted the United States back into third place — the last au­to­matic berth in the North and Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Caribbean re­gion.

The Amer­i­cans have over­come an 0-2 start and head into their fi­nal game of the hexag­o­nal group­ing on Tues­day at Trinidad and Tobago with 12 points, two ahead of Panama and three ahead of Hon­duras, which plays Sat­ur­day at Costa Rica.

A win would put the US in its eighth straight World Cup as long as Hon­duras does not de­feat the Ti­cos and Mex­ico while over­com­ing its goal dif­fer­ence against the US, which is cur­rently 12.

A draw at Trinidad would be suf­fi­cient un­less Hon­duras wins its last two matches and Panama does not beat Costa Rica by eight goals (or seven if Panama some­how over­comes its deficit in to­tal goals vs. the US, cur­rently nine).

Re­tired goal­keeper Kasey Keller, now an ESPN an­a­lyst, said the re­al­ity of the sit­u­a­tion hit the Amer­i­cans af­ter the 2-0 loss to Costa Rica in New Jersey and the 1-1 draw at Hon­duras.

“Oh, boy. We don’t have any time. We have to put it right,” Keller said of the thought process. “So much of the rhetoric before the game was there had to be a start to this match that kind of em­pha­sized the poor re­sults from Septem­ber, and I think you saw that. You needed stars to show up, and the US’s big­gest star showed up and scored the first, cre­ated the sec­ond.”

Chris­tian Pulisic, the 19-yearold from Her­shey, Penn­syl­va­nia, who is a ris­ing star with Ger­many’s Borus­sia Dort­mund, helped en­er­gize the US when he was shifted to cen­tral mid­field from the flanks. He scored with a bril­liant touch in the eighth minute and passed to Jozy Alti­dore, who dou­bled the lead in the 19th.Alti­dore con­verted a penalty kick in the 43rd and Bobby Wood got the fi­nal goal in the 63rd.

“It was ex­actly what I ex­pected,” US cap­tain Michael Bradley said, “and now we’ve got to make sure that in a few days’ time were ready to go to Trinidad and af­ter 15 games of qual­i­fy­ing make sure that we fin­ish things off in the right way.”

A play­off against Syria would raise the is­sue of whether President Don­ald Trump’s ad­mi­nis- tra­tion would al­low op­pos­ing play­ers to en­ter the US for the first leg. Syria is among the nations in the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s cur­rent travel ban. A play­off against ei­ther team would in­clude weary- ing travel, es­pe­cially for Amer­i­can play­ers based in Europe.

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