The US Men's National Team has two important World Cup qualifiers on its schedule in the next week. On September 6th, they take on Cuba in Havana. Then they return to the States to face Trinidad and Tobago in Chicago on September 10th.
Here is a brief look at the two upcoming opponents for Team USA! USA! USA!
US/Cuba: September 6th
This game is the most difficult to predict, by far. The last time the US faced Cuba in Havana, the Korean War was yet to happen. None of the players currently on a roster had been born. Cuba won the match in 1947 by a score of 5-2.
Because of the US embargo of Cuba, the US MNT simply hasn't travelled south. Of course, it also helps that the Cubans haven't been good enough to make it deep enough in qualifying to force the Americans to visit.
50-plus years of sub-par soccer + one trade embargo = no recent history.
The Cubans have sent teams to play Americans, most recently during qualifying for the Beijing Olympics. The Cubans sent 18 players, seven of whom defected. One player was also out through suspension, so the Cuban team was forced to start a match with ten players before being unceremoniously dumped out of the tournament.
Being an unknown quantity may help Cuba. Nobody on the US team knows what to expect. Not just on the pitch, either. None of the Americans know what kind of reception they will receive from the Cuban fans.
"We don't know a whole lot about them," said US defender Carlos Bocanegra. "They could have a few surprises, athletic guys with individual talent." Not exactly your typical scouting report.
And nobody knows how much lingering bitterness remains from the Cuban Missile Crisis and resulting embargo.
Still, this is a match that the US should win. The Cuban team is comprised almost entirely of players based in the Cuban domestic league, while Bob Bradley fields a team full of experienced MLS and European-based players.
Prediction: USA 3-0 Cuba
US/Trinidad & Tobago: September 10th
This is a game I am very excited about. Why, you ask?
Because I have tickets.
When the fixture list for this round of World Cup qualifiers was released over the summer, I was thrilled. It was an international match close enough to school that I could make it there and back without missing too much class. Okay, one graduate seminar and probably a Thursday morning class. It's my patriotic duty to miss those classes.
I'm also excited because the last time I saw an international match, the US beat Mexico in Columbus to clinch qualification for the 2006 World Cup Finals. It was an electrifying experience, and I expect something similar on Wednesday.
T&T qualified for the 2006 World Cup by finishing fourth overall in CONCACAF, and beating Bahrain in a home and home playoff. As a brief aside, CONCACAF does not deserve four teams in the World Cup. Ever.
You may remember that each Trinidad player was in line to receive a giant barrel of Angostura Rum (each barrel worth about $8,000) had they beaten England in the World Cup. Trinidad gave the Brits a good challenge, but fell 2-0 thanks to two very late goals.
Since then, T&T has gotten worse. Iconic striker Dwight Yorke is now 36-years old, though he did come out of international retirement to help the Soca Warriors qualify. Thirteen players from the '06 squad announced that they would retire from international football, mostly due to broken contractual obligations on the part of the Trinidadian Football Federation.
T&T does boast a resounding 3-1 victory over Cuba in the current round of qualifying, but we have no idea how Cuba stacks up the the US. I will tell you that Trinidad was ranked as low as No. 102 as recently as July of this year. There's obviously a huge talent disparity between the US and Trinidad, and the game is on US soil. That will make a difference.
Prediction: USA 4-0 Trinidad
If the US can win both of these games, they'll be in great shape to move on to the final round of qualification. Victories would give them the maximum nine points from three games, with three games left to play. It would also give head coach Bob Bradley more leeway to give some youngsters like Freddy Adu and Jozy Altidore a very serious look.
Check back later in the week when I have a wrap-up of my experience at Bridgeview watching the US thump the Soca Warriors.