Monday morning starts with the phones of U.S. Soccer ringing off the hook. With World Cup qualification officially secured thanks to Saturday's dramatic 3-2 victory in Honduras, much work needs to be done.
Before long, flights will be booked, training facilities and accommodations will be set and an itinerary will be mapped out. But the real questions are the following: How ready is Bob Bradley's national team for the rigors of the World Cup? And what does it need to finalize between now and June 11, 2010?
While we always knew the United States would likely prove itself as a heavyweight in CONCACAF, shaping up against the best in the world is another matter altogether. Here we take a look at what USA fans should be pleased with, and what they need to worry about, as the tournament draws closer.
• Belief – At long last, Bradley's side is starting to get a real sense of self-worth and has lost that inferiority complex that was strangling its progress. The Confederations Cup – and that remarkable semifinal win over Spain – has given the squad an inner calm that should serve it well in South Africa, however the draw comes out.
• Toughness – A major criticism in recent times was that the U.S., while talented, had a soft underbelly that would be exploited when life got difficult. Yet that idea has been quashed by some fighting displays, most notably in Honduras, when many supporters expected the team to crumble after going a goal down.
• Tactics – Bradley has shown himself to be the right man for his position and continues to grow as a coach. He knows how to make the right adaptations at the right time and seems to be able to do no wrong just now.
• Concentration – This is a team still prone to momentary lapses that could prove fatal against elite opposition. CONCACAF teams were generally not strong enough to exploit the USA's occasional waverings, but this is an issue that will be of concern to Bradley.
• Consistency – The U.S. has shown that it is capable of outstanding displays. Now it needs to learn to produce them with greater regularity. The World Cup is an unforgiving tournament; one poor performance can lead to shattered dreams and four years worth of regret.
• Championship dreams – The USA can go into the World Cup with solid hopes of progressing into the knockout stage, provided it is handed a reasonable draw. Further progress after that will be extremely tough, and a quarterfinal place would be a superb achievement.
Weekend First XI
1. Get him an Advil
Cristiano Ronaldo might have helped Portugal clinch a likely place in the European World Cup playoffs, but his season will be set back by a four-week injury layoff. The Real Madrid star limped off after 27 minutes against Hungary and needs intensive treatment on his right ankle.
2. Get him a beer
Conor Casey has often been derided by USA fans, but his two-goal effort in Honduras was the most important and impressive performance of his international career. Casey showed intelligence, strength and some classy touches and he was the difference between the sides.
3. Get them some earplugs
England's players were angered by the treatment they received during their 1-0 defeat in Ukraine, a result which ended the team's perfect record in qualifying. Several flares were hurled onto the field, twice forcing a stoppage in play. The English FA is expected to lodge an official complaint with FIFA.
4. Keep an eye on …
The Columbus Crew. The reigning MLS Cup champion is in outstanding form once again and is a clear favorite to win a second straight title. The Crew is playing with a style and fluidity that is more reminiscent of a European club side and is well worth a look.
5. Catch a flight to …
Montevideo. Uruguay's showdown with Argentina on Wednesday will decide the fourth South American qualifying spot, with the host needing a victory to progress straight to South Africa. A draw should be enough for Diego Maradona's Argentina, as the controversial coach fights a desperate battle to keep his job.
6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week
0 – The number of Peruvian newspapers that did not heap scorn on Bolivian referee Rene Ortube, after Peru was denied a famous draw in Argentina by some controversial decisions.
7. Fond farewell
Lars Lagerback. Sweden's popular and long-serving head coach is poised to walk away from the job if his team fails to qualify for the World Cup.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Mexico. A World Cup spot looked a long way off for El Tri after a horrible start to CONCACAF qualifying, but once Sven-Goran Eriksson was fired as boss, things took a huge turn for the better. Five straight wins lifted Mexico from desperate trouble to an automatic berth – with a game to spare.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Sweden, Czech Republic and Croatia would all have had high expectations of reaching the World Cup, but all three need a miracle to have any chance at a playoff place following dismal campaigns. They are left needing Malta, San Marino and Andorra to do them a favor by springing a huge shock against their group rivals. Not going to happen.
10. Get excited about …
Do you really need to ask? The scenes in Honduras on Saturday night warmed the hearts of all USA fans, and started the clock on an eight-month countdown to the team's involvement in the greatest show in soccer.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Italian star Christian Vieri is having a tough time of things. He's currently without a club and undertaking a lawsuit against former club Inter Milan. But at least he has the delightful Melissa Satta to keep him company.