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Five soccer thoughts on my mind heading into another day of World Cup qualifiers and the MLS stretch run:
• I'm more stoked to see U.S.-T&T on Wednesday than I have been for any other U.S. World Cup qualifier this year. I know the U.S. is already through to the Hex, and I know that tonight's game (8 p.m. ET, ESPN and Galavisión) is meaningless for the Yanks in the WCQ standings. But the game should provide an excellent chance to see the top U.S. youngsters playing significant minutes on the road in a qualifier that means a ton to Trinidad & Tobago.
I'm looking forward to seeing major PT from most of the following guys: Jozy Altidore, Freddy Adu, José Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, Michael Orozco, Marvell Wynne and Charlie Davies. Who will make the most of the opportunity to stake a claim for more run in the Hex? We'll find out in the next two U.S. games. Altidore, Adu and Torres all impressed in the second half against Cuba-granted, a 10-man side of amateurs, but still.
• Mexico's loss should remind U.S. fans (and journos) not to be too complacent. Yes, CONCACAF is pretty terrible these days, and yes, the U.S. should be 4-0 in its less-than-mighty group. But El Tri's 1-0 loss at Jamaica on Saturday should also be a reality check for anyone who thinks the U.S. and Mexico can just show up for a road qualifier and grab three points. (That 1-0 U.S. victory at Guatemala suddenly looks a wee bit better, no?)
Bob Bradley's bunch hasn't been perfect on style points, but the U.S. has shown more attacking flair in the last two home wins against admittedly meager competition. Most important, though, the Americans haven't settled for one-goal wins like they did in Cuba. The U.S. stepped on the throats of T&T (last month) and Cuba (on Saturday), using its superior fitness to devastating advantage in the final minutes against the hapless Cubans.
• My MLS year-end award votes are ready. Most Valuable Player: Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew. It's still amazing to me that Guille isn't a Designated Player, but you wish that every DP would have had as big an influence as the Crew's Argentine string-puller. Rookie of the Year: Sean Franklin, L.A. Galaxy. See, not every Galaxy personnel decision was a disaster! (Just most of them.) Defender of the Year: Chad Marshall, Columbus Crew. The big blond dude was a rock for one of the league's best defenses (and has even scored four goals). Coach of the Year: Sigi Schmid, Columbus. The Hunt Sports Group takes a lot of stick for being overly conservative, but its patience with Schmid has been amply rewarded.
• Get ready for World Cup 2022 in the United States. Although U.S. Soccer has made noises about considering a bid for the 2018 World Cup, it never seemed likely that FIFA would keep three straight editions of the world's showcase sporting event out of Europe. The latest evidence is FIFA prez Sepp Blatter's statement that he doesn't think a second straight World Cup should be staged in the Americas (after Brazil hosts the 2014 event).
One thing to keep an eye on: Will FIFA decide to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups at the same time? That would certainly be in the U.S.'s interests, since it could work an immediate quid pro quo with Euro voters in exchange for the U.S.'s support of a European candidate for '18. (Otherwise, a lag time between votes for '18 and '22 could allow for backroom shenanigans and promised return votes not to come through.)
Awarding '18 and '22 at the same time should also be in FIFA's interests, since it would allow for the bundling of televisions rights fees and sponsorships. Long story short: The U.S. is the clear front-runner for '22, barring any problems with South Africa or Brazil that could cause the U.S. to step in as a replacement even sooner.
• Just because the U.S. is done playing Cuba (for now) doesn't mean I'll forget the Cubans. If you're a Blog reader you might remember Manuel Díaz Rodríguez, the lifelong Cuban who showed up at the U.S.-Cuba game in Havana wearing a U.S. flag, a U.S. bandanna and a knockoff U.S. soccer jersey. A hardcore fan of U.S. sports, he said he had been put in jail for 32 days last year for having a satellite antenna that he used to watch as many American sports as possible.
The now-legendary Cuba Cinco gave Manuel a U.S. Soccer scarf, and Manuel and I have been exchanging e-mails ever since. It's kind of overwhelming when you read an e-mail from Manuel saying that the U.S.-Cuba game in Havana was "the five happiest hours of my life." In any case, Manuel wanted me to thank Blog readers for their reaction to his story, and if any U.S. soccer fans want to communicate with him he said he'd be psyched to get your e-mail. (Keep in mind that Spanish is his main language.) He goes by the nickname "Manolo Manguera," and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.