- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 17, 2009

For U.S. national team players this week, the joy of qualifying for soccer’s greatest competition was tempered by the knowledge that one of their own escaped death in a car crash but remains in a hospital bed.

“It was a hard week for everyone,” striker Landon Donovan said after a 2-2 tie with Costa Rica on Wednesday at RFK Stadium. “It was hard for us and a lot harder for the three parties and their families involved [in the crash]. To have an opportunity to play and hopefully inspire was nice.”

In a span of seven days, the players went through a whirlwind of emotions. On Oct. 10, the team came from behind to claim a 3-2 victory in Honduras and post its sixth consecutive trip to the World Cup. Then on Wednesday, the squad beat Costa Rica to clinch the CONCACAF qualifying group, topping archrival Mexico.

Between those dramatic games came the tragic car crash in which starting forward Charlie Davies suffered serious injuries and a 22-year-old girl was killed.

“Charlie’s situation motivated us. We are glad he’s alive,” goalie Tim Howard said. “Charlie would give anything in this moment to put on a jersey and have it all back. You almost feel lucky and privileged to play, and that was the motivation for us.”

More bad news was to come.

Central defender Oguchi Onyewu tore a knee tendon in the Costa Rica game and could miss up to four months, an injury that will make it a challenge for him to get fit for the World Cup.

“It’s another setback for us,” coach Bob Bradley said.

Later in the week, the team learned defender Jay DeMerit will miss two months after eye surgery. And worries linger about the team’s habit of falling behind. In the World Cup qualifying cycle, the Americans were forced to fight back from a deficit in six games to earn a result.

“It’s a plus that we can compete and keep pushing when we fall behind,” Bradley said. “And it’s a minus of late, when we’ve had too many situations when we have done that.”

The team can get away with that in qualifying, but not against the many accomplished teams at the World Cup.

“We haven’t always converted our chances, and we’ve been made to pay a few times, but nobody can fault our reaction,” Donovan said.

Honduras deserved it - It was painful to see Costa Rica denied an automatic berth to the World Cup, but Wednesday’s tie did send Honduras to the World Cup for the first time since 1982.

There’s justice in that.

In many trips to Central America, the U.S. team faces derision. But in Honduras last week, the fans did not boo the U.S. national anthem and even applauded the team off the field.

“We broke their hearts, and they clapped us off the field. That doesn’t happen too often,” U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said.

Bradley the wise - So what was Bradley telling Jozy Altidore early in the Costa Rica game?

The coach gave a preemptive caution to Altidore in case he notched a goal. Beneath his jersey, the striker was wearing a shirt bearing Davies’ name and number. Bradley worried that if the youngster scored a goal he would pull his shirt up in celebration - a move that might earn a yellow card. Altidore already had drawn a yellow in the 14th minute.

“I just didn’t want him to get a red card and miss the first game of the World Cup,” Bradley said.

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