PRETORIA, South Africa — Four years of careful planning, during which U.S. coach Bob Bradley used 92 players and guided his team through 18 qualifying matches in nine countries (along with several other tournaments and dozens of friendlies) will come down to 90 minutes on Wednesday afternoon in the South African city of Pretoria.
Draws with England and Slovenia have set the stage: The Americans must defeat Algeria to ensure passage to the round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. A loss means the end of the road, while a tie leaves the U.S. needing a favorable result between their previous two opponents in Port Elizabeth.
Algeria is a team the U.S. (0-0-2) should beat on paper. It has yet to score a goal in this tournament and lacks any bona fide stars. But the Desert Foxes (0-1-1) are battle hardened and will be plenty motivated, as they have a slim chance to advance themselves.
Moreover, it’s a World Cup game, and history would suggest that the U.S. is in for a struggle. Despite all the growth and improvement over the past two decades, this stunning statistic casts a large shadow: The U.S. has won just three World Cup matches in the past 60 years. That’s right — three. In two of them (Colombia in 1994 and Portugal in 2002), an own goal was required to produce the margin of victory. The other was against Mexico (2002), which the U.S. defeats routinely.
There is no easy win at a World Cup. And if the Americans can’t find a way to get one on Wednesday, U.S. soccer will face a very long four years.