- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 10, 2009

With World Cup qualifying coming down to the wire, there are only two days left in group play - Saturday and Wednesday - for most teams to secure a place in the 2010 event in South Africa.

The U.S. team can clinch a sixth straight berth in the World Cup with a victory Saturday at Honduras. The Americans also can qualify with a loss or a tie depending on Costa Rica’s result against Trinidad and Tobago. If the U.S. team fails to qualify Saturday, it will need at least a tie against Costa Rica on Wednesday at RFK Stadium.

This is a huge game for Honduras, and it will be played against the background of political turmoil. A victory likely would send the nation to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.

The odds are stacked against the Americans. Honduras is 8-0-0 at home in this World Cup cycle, with five shutouts and two victories over Mexico. Overall, the U.S. team is 2-1-1 on Honduran soil.

“Ideally we can finish things up on Saturday, but sometimes factors are out of our control,” coach Bob Bradley said. “The opportunity to go there, and go to win and get the three points, is a great challenge that we are embracing, knowing that we still have a home game left. … We will be paying attention to the Costa Rica game.”

The Americans will have to play without key midfielder Clint Dempsey, who is out with a sprained shoulder. Bradley said Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden would play in Dempsey’s place.

The U.S. team (16 points) leads the six-team group in the North American, Central American and Caribbean region, one point ahead of Mexico. Honduras (13) is third with Costa Rica (12) fourth. The top three automatically qualify for the World Cup. The fourth-place finisher has to play a home-and-away playoff against the fifth-place team from South America; Argentina currently occupies that spot.

The U.S. team has eight players sitting on a yellow-card caution. If Feilhaber, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Conor Casey, Steve Cherundolo, Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan or Frankie Hejduk earns a yellow in the Honduras game, he will have to sit out the Costa Rica match.

“The yellow-card situation is a challenging one,” Bradley said. “I think we have to find a balance in this… and finally, our discipline is very important. We were pleased that in the last two games we didn’t pick up any yellow cards.”

In an unusual move, the game is not being televised nationally; it will be broadcast via closed-circuit television and will be shown at only four establishments in the D.C.-Baltimore area: Molly Malone’s and Fado Irish Pub in the District; Slainte Irish Pub & Restaurant in Baltimore and Summers Restaurant in Arlington.

“The idea that this match is not on TV is disappointing, and we understand and feel badly about that,” Bradley said.

Meanwhile, these are tricky days for two-time World Cup winner Argentina, coached by Diego Maradona. In order to earn an automatic berth, Argentina needs to beat Peru at home Saturday and hope Ecuador ties Uruguay, which hosts Argentina on Wednesday.

Portugal is also in big trouble. The team is in third in Group 1, two points behind second-place Sweden. It needs to win its last two games, both at home, against Hungary and Malta - and get help from group leader Denmark, which plays Sweden at home Saturday and Hungary on Wednesday.

In Group 4, Germany and Russia will battle for the automatic berth Saturday in Moscow.

Note - The District will host the Kicking & Screening Soccer Film Festival from Thursday to Oct. 21. Check out the program of events at www.kickingandscreening.com.

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