USA's journey to make it into the top flight of world cricket has become more difficult with the news that the 2015 World Cup will be a 10-team event. However, USA coach and former West Indies Test player, Clayton Lambert, remains confident that his players will continue making progress towards a potential spot in the event.
"For us, it's certainly a blow, because as an Associate nation, that's the highest form of the game that you can hope to play. That is a blow, but for us, there is still the challenge of trying to be in the top of the Associates and then hopefully we can become a Full [Member]. It is a disappointment for the guys. The guys are really looking forward to going to the World Cup.
"We were hearing that it would probably be only two teams and we still think we're good enough to be one of the two."
Lambert was part of the USA team that played in the Champions Trophy in 2004, but playing against the top flight again became a faraway dream after the USA Cricket Association (USACA) was suspended by the ICC for internal problems. When USA was readmitted in 2008, they were dropped down to World Cricket League (WCL) Division 5.
This year they have been making steady progress up the Associate rankings, and are currently in WCL Division 3, which will be played in Hong Kong in January with the possibility to advance into Division 2 in the UAE next April.
"I know it's a better balanced team than the team that we had when we played in the Champions Trophy," Lambert said. "The guys are a little more organized in what they do. To me, this is the best US team that there's been. There's areas that this particular team can improve, but the team is a lot younger and there's much better balance."
Rather than cut away opportunities, Lambert hoped that more chances would be provided to the Associates against Full Member competition as that is the best way for them to improve.
"If you look at an example like Ireland, I can remember when I was playing with the West Indies… if you were in the West Indian team and you go and play Ireland 10 years ago, you just go and beat the daylights out of them. Now that the guys have had a chance to play county cricket in England, they're developing and they've been beating the Full Members."
"I do believe that in the same way that Full nations can bring young players to become the quality players that they do become, the Associate nations can produce the same quality players. The only thing is being able to play against the high level of competition consistently and that develops the skills. If you don't develop your skills then you can't play against a high level of competition."
A lack of professionalization is the component that Lambert feels is preventing USA from being more competitive on a consistent basis.
"Most of the times, if we have two back to back tournaments, it's difficult for us to have our best team at both tournaments. That's because our players are amateurs and everyone has to work," Lambert said. But when the players have been available and gotten chances to test themselves against an increased level of competition, he says that the improvement has been noticeable.
"When we went to West Indies in '08, we came back in the Americas Cup and we absolutely destroyed all the teams in Florida. Soon after we played Jamaica in Florida, we went to Bermuda and we did really well in that tournament. Coming back from Dubai against a high level of competition, albeit T20, we went to Nepal and on very difficult wickets we were able to achieve the goal we set out to achieve. We've produced better performances once we are exposed [to better competition]."
Peter Della Penna is a journalist based in New Jersey