USA's Road To the World Cup Set: Yanks Start Out on Feb. 9th in Last Round of Qualifying

CHICAGO (From USSoccer.Com) — The United States will open its bid to qualify for its fifth consecutive World Cup finals in Trinidad & Tobago on Feb. 9 as the final round draw for 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying was announced Tuesday morning from FIFA House in Zurich Switzerland.

The U.S. along with Costa Rica Guatemala Mexico Panama and Trinidad & Tobago will compete in the 10-game round-robin format from Feb. 9-Oct. 12 2005 with the top three teams automatically advancing to the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. The fourth-place team will compete in a two-game playoff to be held Nov. 12/13 and Nov. 16 against the fifth-place finisher in Asian qualifying.

Drawn as Team 6 in the final round format the U.S. faces a tricky road to Germany as their first two games will take place on the road. The U.S. gets its consecutive home dates for Matches 3&4 and 6&7 and will then face another two away matches before concluding final round play in the United States. Venues for the five home matches for the United States will be announced as they become finalized. Log on to ussoccer.com for the latest information on the USA's preparation for the final round of World Cup qualifying.

"We are prepared for this draw said U.S. Manager Bruce Arena who has a lifetime record of 13-4-7 in World Cup qualifying play.

"Since I’ve been manager most of our games in the early going of qualifying rounds have been on the road so we understand the process and the mentality. I was going to be indifferent to any scenario because in the end everything is going to balance out. At the end of the day it’s going to be extremely difficult and the teams going to the World Cup will likely be decided on the final day."

All of the match dates for final round qualifying are scheduled to take place on dates set aside for international play on the FIFA Coordinated Calendar for 2005. For games on which there is a choice of days to play the two governing federations negotiate to agree on the chosen date.

Since 1988 the United States has been a dominant force in the region compiling a 39-28-27 in World Cup qualifying play in advancing to four consecutive World Cups. With a qualifying record of 25-6-11 on U.S. soil the team has lost only one home qualifier since 1985. Additionally the squad is currently on a 29-match unbeaten run against CONCACAF opponents in all competitions dating back to Sept. 5 2001 a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica in the final round of qualifying for the 2002 FIFA World Cup.

Unbeaten in eight World Cup qualifying meetings (6-0-2) against Trinidad the USA’s opening day opponent is the only team in the group that the U.S. has beaten on the road in a qualifier. The U.S. kicks off the first double-date away to regional rivals Mexico on the weekend of March 26/27 having never won a qualifier in Mexico in 12 tries (0-11-1) the lone draw coming Nov. 2 1997 in Mexico City. The U.S. then quickly returns to home soil to face Guatemala on March 30.

The halfway point for the Hexagonal arrives in June with the U.S. hosting Costa Rica on the weekend of June 4/5 then jetting to Panama City for their fourth-ever meeting with Panama on June 8. A 92nd minute goal by Cobi Jones earned the U.S. a 1-1 draw in the teams’ earlier meeting in Panama City during the semifinal phase.

The final round’s second stand-alone date falls on Aug. 17 with the U.S. welcoming Trinidad then jumps to a Labor Day weekend home game against Mexico and a visit to Guatemala.

The three teams that will automatically advance to the 2006 FIFA World Cup will be decided on the final double date which begins for the United States in the unfriendly confines of Costa Rica on the weekend of Oct. 8/9. The U.S. has a losing record overall against Costa Rica in qualifying (4-6-2) and has never beaten the Ticos on their home turf going 0-5-1 all-time. The U.S. concludes the final round just as it did the semifinal stage hosting Panama on Oct. 12 2005.

The U.S. advanced to the final round hexagonal as winners of Group 1 going 3-0-3 in the semifinal phase. The United States relied on determination to collect late goals in the first two road games and finished the semifinal round undefeated. The USA scored in the 88th minute in Jamaica and the 92nd minute in Panama to earn important road draws. At home it was a different story as convincing shutout victories against El Salvador (2-0) and Panama (6-0) saw the U.S. qualified before the round’s conclusion.

The U.S. and Costa Rica met in both the semifinal and final round of the 2002 cycle each recording shutouts on their home dates in the final phase. Costa Rica sweated through the semifinal round this year not qualifying until the final match night when a 0-0 draw at Honduras gave the Ticos the top spot in Group 2.

The USA holds an unblemished 3-0-3 qualifying record against Guatemala with all three victories coming in the United States. The teams last met in the semifinal round of 2002 qualifying a late goal by Los Angeles Galaxy forward Carlos Ruiz giving Guatemala a 1-1 home draw on July 23 2000 in the remote town of Mazetanango. Brian McBride tallied the lone goal in the USA’s 1-0 shutout win over the Chapines at RFK Stadium on Sept. 3 2000 in Washington D.C. Guatemala is one of the surprise entrants in this final round finishing tied on points with Costa Rica at the top of Group 2.

The U.S.-Mexico rivalry is by far the most storied in all of sports with teams having met a total of 49 times dating back to 1934. Mexico has the numerical advantage including a 13-4-4 lead in all-time qualifying matchups. The scales have tipped in the USA’s favor of late with the U.S. going 7-1-1 since 2000 while posting seven shutouts.

The rivalry reached its pinnacle in the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup where the U.S. scored an historic 2-0 victory. Mexico predictably coasted through Group 3 outscoring their opponents 27-1 while maintaining their 100% record in FIFA 2006 World Cup qualifying. The Mexicans boast the top two leading scorers in CONCACAF qualifying so far with Jared Borguetti outpacing all scorers with 10 goals and Jaime Lozano just behind with eight tallies.

Panama is making its first-ever appearance in the final round and met the U.S. in qualifying for the first time during the semifinal phase. After the U.S. narrowly escaped Panama City on Sept. 8 2004 the USA rode a hat trick by neophyte Eddie Johnson to deliver a 6-0 thumping in the return meeting Oct. 13 at RFK Stadium. After winning their second group match at the normally impenetrable National Stadium in Jamaica Panama completed the pressure-packed final matchday with an impressive 3-0 win against El Salvador.

The U.S. has had great success against Trinidad & Tobago with only one loss to tarnish their 10-1-3 record. Ante Razov made history in the 2-0 win against Trinidad in Foxboro during the final round in 2001 his goal just 74 seconds after kickoff being the fastest in U.S. qualifying history. Trinidad & Tobago took care of business in the lightly regarded Group 3 winning all four matches vs. St. Vincent & Grenadines and St. Kitts & Nevis to finish second in behind Mexico.

The U.S. reached the semifinal round of qualifying after defeating Grenada by an aggregate score of 6-2 in the second round midfielder DaMarcus Beasley pacing the U.S. attack with three goals over two matches. The U.S. easily handled the visitors 3-0 on June 13 in Columbus Ohio then battled through a rain-soaked field to win 3-2 at the National Stadium in St. George’s a week later.

The U.S. is coming off one of the most successful years in team history compiling an 8-1-6 record in 2004. The team is riding a 13-match unbeaten run the longest in team history which at one point included four consecutive shutouts by four different goalkeepers.

Following is the complete schedule:

Date Match (Home teams listed first)
Feb. 9 Panama vs. Guatemala
Feb. 9 Costa Rica vs. Mexico
Feb. 9 Trinidad & Tobago vs. USA

March 26/27 Costa Rica vs. Panama
March 26/27 Guatemala vs. Trinidad & Tobago
March 26/27 Mexico vs. USA

March 30 Panama vs. Mexico
March 30 USA vs. Guatemala
March 30 Trinidad & Tobago vs. Costa Rica

June 4/5 Trinidad & Tobago vs. Panama
June 4/5 Guatemala vs. Mexico
June 4/5 USA vs. Costa Rica

June 8 Panama vs. USA
June 8 Costa Rica vs. Guatemala
June 8 Mexico vs. Trinidad & Tobago

Aug. 17 Guatemala vs. Panama
Aug. 17 Mexico vs. Costa Rica
Aug. 17 USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago

Sept. 3/4 Panama vs. Costa Rica
Sept. 3/4 Trinidad & Tobago vs. Guatemala
Sept. 3/4 USA vs. Mexico

Sept. 7 Mexico vs. Panama
Sept. 7 Guatemala vs. USA
Sept. 7 Costa Rica vs. Trinidad & Tobago

Oct. 8/9 Panama vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Oct. 8/9 Mexico vs. Guatemala
Oct. 8/9 Costa Rica vs. USA

Oct. 12 USA vs. Panama
Oct. 12 Guatemala vs. Costa Rica
Oct. 12 Trinidad & Tobago vs. Mexico

Playoff Match
Nov. 12/13* AFC #5 vs. CONCACAF #4
Nov. 16* AFC #5 vs. CONCACAF #4

*home team will be determined by lottery at the completion of the final round