So much for a scoring drought.
Before an 8-0 win over Barbados Sunday at Carson, Calif., the US had failed to score in 287 minutes of play, since a 3-0 win over Poland March 26.
But the US had an easy day against the Bajans as Clint Dempsey scored 54 seconds into the match, the earliest goal ever for a US team in World Cup qualifying. The fastest previous score was by Ante Razov (72 seconds) in a 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago June 20, 2001, at Foxboro Stadium. The US also tied a team record for goals, set in an 8-1 win over the Cayman Islands in 1993.
Dempsey also scored in the 61st minute and now has 11 goals in 42 US appearances. Brian Ching scored twice, and a third goal initially credited to him was changed to an own goal. Michael Bradley, Landon Donovan, and Eddie Johnson also converted.
The US could not have had a much faster start to the qualifying round for South Africa 2010. The return match will be in Barbados next Sunday in much different circumstances than the last time the US made the trip, during '02 qualifying. Then, the US took 7-0 (at Foxboro Stadium) and 4-0 wins over Barbados, but the games were in group play; the Bajans had greater motivation than they will have in this home-and-away series, and made things difficult for the US at Kensington Oval in Bridgetown.
The caliber of the regional competition is wildly different from the US' preparation schedule. Matches against England (2-0 loss), Spain (1-0 loss), and Argentina (0-0) probably helped the US for the future, though.
And the ease of the result against Barbados could also be measured against the problems Mexico had in taking a 2-0 victory over Belize in Houston. Mexico struggled to break down the Belize defense, Carlos Vela finally scoring in the 66th minute and Jared Borgetti adding an injury-time penalty kick.
The Mexicans seem to be off their game under interim coach Jesus "Chucho" Ramirez. They were tactically overmatched by Argentina in a 4-1 loss in San Diego, then crushed Peru, 4-0, in Chicago, but goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez was arrested afterward following a hotel disturbance.
Svan-Goran Eriksson takes over the Mexican national team following the return leg game against Belize. But Eriksson's hiring is a gamble, since he has no experience with teams in Latin America. Eriksson was a top candidate to take over the US in the early '90s, but instead went on to success with Sampdoria, Lazio, the England national team, and Manchester City.
Revved in qualifyingThe Revolution's Matt Reis was called in as a backup for the US after starting goalkeeper Tim Howard was injured in practice Friday. Reis, who was on the US bench as Brad Guzan went the distance against Barbados, is expected to return to the Revolution for tomorrow's game against the New York Red Bulls.
The national teams of three other Revolution players also came through with positive results in qualifiers. Bermuda (Khano Smith), The Gambia (Kenny Mansally), and Grenada (Shalrie Joseph) have never come close to qualifying for the World Cup finals, but they have made strong starts this time.
Smith played the entire game as Bermuda upset Trinidad & Tobago, 2-1, on goals by John Barry Nusum. The Soca Warriors played in the '06 World Cup in Germany, but have failed to recover from a boycott by players, who have sought legal action concerning payments from the tournament. Defender Kareem Smith of Dorchester was in the T&T lineup and Southern Connecticut State's Ancil Farrier performed as a second-half substitute.
Mansally made his international debut as a 75th-minute substitute as The Gambia took a 1-0 victory over Algeria in Banjul. The Gambians, who visit Algeria next weekend, have earned 5 points in three qualifiers, tied with Senegal for the group lead.
Grenada surprised Costa Rica, leading for most of the game in a 2-2 tie. Patrick Modeste (20th) and Jason Roberts (27th) gave Grenada the lead. But the Spice Boyz lost Ricky Charles (50th minute) to a red card and surrendered the tying goal in the 80th minute.
Former Revolution and University of Rhode Island midfielder Andy Williams (now with Real Salt Lake) scored in the 75th minute for Jamaica in a 7-0 victory over the Bahamas.
Survival testThe last time France and Italy met in a tournament was July 9, 2006; the worldwide viewing audience was more than 1 billion and the 80,000-seat Olympic Stadium in Berlin was filled. Italy defeated the French on penalty kicks to win its fourth World Cup title that day.
When the teams meet today in Zurich, they will be hoping to survive the first round of the European Championship. Both teams tied Romania and were routed by The Netherlands; a Romania win over The Netherlands today would eliminate both France and Italy.
Italy appeared to be on the verge of defeating Romania, but Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovreboe disallowed a Luca Toni goal late in the first half of a game that finished 1-1. Ovreboe later admitted his error, saying, "There is little to discuss, I made a mistake on Toni's goal and I said the same to the UEFA commission."
Looking southThe big game in South American qualifying will be Brazil-Argentina in Belo Horizonte tomorrow. But the tournament leader remains Paraguay (13 points), which took a 2-0 victory over Brazil Sunday on goals by Salvador Cabanas and Roque Santa Cruz.
Brazil (8 points) dropped into fourth place, trailing Argentina (10) and Colombia (9). Argentina's Rodrigo Palacios scored in the final seconds in a 1-1 tie with Ecuador in Buenos Aires.
Venezuela (7 points) continued its resurgence with a 1-1 tie against Uruguay in Montevideo. Ronald Vargas, who recently transferred to a Belgian club, scored in the 56th minute, after defender Diego Lugano had given Uruguay the lead.
Vargas helped the Vinotinto to a shocking win (2-0) over Brazil at Gillette Stadium June 6, scoring the second goal late in the first half; before that, Brazil had a 17-0-0 record and a 78-4 goal differential in games against the Venezuelans.
But Venezuela's propensity for pulling off upsets goes back to 2004, when it took a 3-0 win over Uruguay.
Few Venezuelans have made an impact in MLS (Alejandro Moreno plays for Columbus, Giovanni Savarese performed for New York and the Revolution), but others could be on the way. Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio recruited Vargas, the brightest young star in the country, and is attempting to land forward Jorge Rojas.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org