SEATTLE – The hard part is over. Now it’s just about running the table.
That was the message coming out of US national team training on Sunday, 24 hours after the squad touched down in the Emerald City following the roughest travel day of their four weeks together.
The Americans flew out early Saturday morning from Kingston following their 2-1 win over Jamaica on Friday night, made a stopover to refuel in Monterrey, Mexico, then touched down on US soil here at last on Saturday afternoon – all told, nine hours of travel time.
Now the focus turns to Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier vs. Panama (9:30 pm ET, ESPN/UniMas, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and according to Tim Howard, the dog days of the road trip are over.
“I think everyone’s feeling refreshed,” he told reporters after training at CenturyLink Field on Sunday. “To be in the fresh air in a great city – it feels like it’s home to us. It’s been good and this will be a good workout for us.”
The Americans now have a chance to break away from the pack in a bunched-up CONCACAF Hexagonal table – the US are tied on seven points with Mexico (on whom they have a game in hand) and Costa Rica, with the Panamanians a point behind. With a win over Los Canaleros, they can take a commanding step toward qualifying for the World Cup.
With the toughest part of a quick turnaround that sees them play three qualifiers in 12 days – concluding next week in Salt Lake City vs. Honduras – the US must come through with their stated goal of maximum points, Howard says.
“We definitely looked at this trip as a nine-point trip,” he said. “We got the three in Jamaica. It’ll be important for us to get all three here because we’ve said all along we can create separation in these three games and hopefully that will be the case.”
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.