Obstacles remain in USA's World Cup path

Not securing all three points in Salt Lake City against El Salvador on Saturday would have been an utter disaster for the United States. The missed opportunity would have put Bob Bradley's men in serious danger of failing to reach the World Cup finals.

The U.S. managed to survive El Salvador's upset bid in a 2-1 victory, but somehow the Americans' path to South Africa got even more complicated.

Mexico's resounding 3-0 victory in Costa Rica means only a single point separates the top four teams in CONCACAF, where the top three qualify directly and the fourth goes into a playoff against a strong South American side. And with the USA playing two of its last three games on the road, a huge amount of work still needs to be done before the team can even start to think about boarding a plane next summer.

The performance against El Salvador was not by a team packed with confidence. The U.S. was somewhat fortunate to escape with the win as its backline lacked cohesion without Oguchi Onyewu and its midfield lacked the usual rock-like stability without Ricardo Clark. Also, a sense of American nervousness permeated throughout the game.

A better display will be needed at Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday, a game which the USA really needs to win to give itself added security heading into the final two qualifying matches.

The events of the summer, with the outstanding effort in the Confederations Cup, gave the public every reason to feel positive about U.S. soccer. That hasn't changed too much. But there is also cause for concern.

With Mexico suddenly back in top form and Honduras also running hot, the Americans could be faced with some tense moments as their most important tests lie ahead.

Weekend Best XI

1. Get him an Advil

Now is not a good time to be Diego Maradona. The former World Cup winner is clinging desperately to his job as Argentina's head coach after a dismal performance in a 3-1 home loss to Brazil. The Argentineans are in severe danger of missing out on the World Cup and the knives are out for Maradona. With a trip to Asuncion to take on Paraguay set for Wednesday, the picture could be even bleaker by the end of the week.

2. Get them a beer

Seattle Sounders FC has been the success story of the MLS campaign, packing in crowds of more than 30,000 for their regular-season games. Wednesday night's victory in the U.S. Open Cup final against D.C. United was a worthy reward for the club's new and devoted following, and it also secured a place in the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League.

3. Get them some earplugs

The entire Costa Rica team was booed off the field after its 3-0 home thrashing by Mexico. Once sitting in a position of strength in the CONCACAF hexagonal group, the team is now devoid of confidence and in real danger of being forced into a playoff for a spot in South Africa.

4. Keep an eye on …

Wayne Rooney. The England striker sparked a storm of controversy with a blatant dive to win a penalty in England's friendly win over Slovenia. Rooney's actions will be under the microscope even more than usual during Wednesday's qualifier against Croatia.

5. Catch a flight to …

Port of Spain. It is crunch time in the USA's bid to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and a positive result away to Trinidad and Tobago is vital. Sun, rum – and hopefully, for Bob Bradley's team, three points.

6. Useless and completely made-up statistic of the week

0 – The number of Mexico fans who have missed former coach Sven-Goran Eriksson since his sacking earlier this year.

7. Fond farewell

Chelsea's murky transfer dealings seem to have caught up with them. FIFA banned the Blues from buying new players for 18 months after they were found guilty of improper conduct in the signing of French youngster Gael Kakuta. But Roman Abramovich's billions will be missed – the Russian oligarch often propped up a dwindling transfer market with his extravagant spending on players.

8. Get ready to say hello to …

Julian de Guzman. Deportivo La Coruna's Canadian midfielder is once again being linked with a switch to Toronto FC. Toronto sources insist that club management is confident of clinching a deal.

9. Get ready to say goodbye to …

Amadou Sanyang. Toronto FC's 18-year-old Gambian midfielder has impressed in recent weeks and is already starting to generate attention in Europe. Two French clubs have sent scouts to watch him in action, and Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven have requested video footage.

10. Get excited about …

Moves to ban the transfer of players under the age of 18 are afoot, with FIFA believed to be strongly considering a proposal designed to stop big clubs from poaching all the best young talent. Such a rule would be a positive step and would provide additional security and incentive to smaller teams committed to their youth development policies.

11. Why it's good to be a soccer player

Take a look at Sophie Larissa Houghton, girlfriend of Manchester United wunderkind Federico Macheda.