Oct 16, 2012, 11:30 AM EDT
KANSAS CITY – Everyone believed things would be different under manager Jurgen Klinsmann, this talismanic figure, uniquely positioned to elevate U.S. Soccer and bring the U.S. national team forward in a stalled march toward greater global prominence.
Well, it is different –but this is not what most of us had in mind.
For the first time in a dozen years, the United States goes into its final match in semifinal round qualifying with a little nervous edge framing the night. In the run-up to World Cups in 2006 and 2010, passage into the final round of regional qualifying was assured by the semifinal round closer.
Not this year. The United States could pay the ultimate price for a slip tonight against Guatemala in the final match of semifinal round CONCACAF qualifying. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his men are heavily favored for tonight’s contest at sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park, one of the top MLS venues and one that promises to be teeming with patriotic support for the 7 p.m. ET kickoff (ESPN2).
Odds are with the United States, which needs only a draw to advance. There is even a possibility that a loss could see them through.
Most of the U.S difference-makers are here, Landon Donovan as the one exception. Otherwise, Tim Howard has been his usual steady self in goal; Livewire attacker Clint Dempsey has scored in three of five qualifiers in this round; Midfield general Michael Bradley returned to the U.S. lineup in Friday’s win over Antigua & Barbuda after missing the previous two matches due to injury.
The United States has not lost to Guatemala since 1988, with a 12-0-6 mark in that time. Plus, the Yanks are 6-0-5 all-time in World Cup qualifiers against Los Chapines of Guatemala.
The home-team support promises to be strong at Livestrong. The Heartland venue was selected specifically to allow for more precise U.S. Soccer ticket distribution control. Plus, the roof over Livestrong’s seats will help keep the pro-American ruckus reverberating with an impassioned tenor through domestic soccer’s most modern, high-tech ground.
Even a slightly weakened U.S. lineup shouldn’t not have trouble creating chances against the tiny, Central American country, which also needs only a tie and will almost surely dig in defensively and look to create free kick opportunities with direct balls into combative striker Carlos Ruiz.
The Americans will miss some width in the attack due to injury absences of Donovan and Brek Shea. Plus, left back Fabian Johnson remains in Germany, ill with a stomach virus.
So, why the worry? Why are some media members so critical of it all, when safe arrival into the next round seems like a money-making bet?
There’s a sense that U.S. Soccer has regressed under Klinsmann, a notion that is debatable but certainly not kooky by any stretch. This small margin for error tonight, for instance, certainly is disconcerting. But people do tend to forget that regional qualifying is rarely easy for the big kids on the CONCACAF block, the United States and Mexico.
The Americans have not looked altogether convincing in this round – but they haven’t looked awful, either. Three of five goals allowed in five matches have come off free kicks, an indication that the defense, while imperfect, hasn’t been bad.
The attack has been more concerning, with Klinsmann’s team finding just enough goals to put themselves into this favorable position. Even Klinsmann admits the team needs more bottom-line production.
The collective U.S. supporters attitude following Friday’s win in Antigua: “They needed Eddie Johnson to score in the 90th minute to beat … Antigua?”
But were there mitigating factors? Bad fields in Jamaica and Antigua? Clint Dempsey’s transfer window drama, the hold-out that reduced him to something less than “full Dempsey” for two matches? The injury to Donovan, who has been so important to the U.S. attack for a decade now?
How does Dempsey feel about the semifinal round that has turned into an unexpected slog: “It’s so hard to tell,” said Dempsey, a no-nonsense Texan who is not known for riding the excuse caboose. But, he did note the lumpiness of a roster full of players who, like himself, have drifted in and out of form and fitness. And he took note of those poor excuses for fields and defensive tactics built to frustrate the Americans.
“But we’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Dempsey said from Livestrong late Monday afternoon. “Being on a good pitch, no excuses. We ought to be able to take our game to them and take our chances.”
Final round qualifying, which will include better teams – Mexico is in, Costa Rica is close, plus the possibility of improving programs in Canada, Honduras or Panama – would begin early next year.
(Check back through the afternoon … we’ll have even more on tonight’s match)
May 25, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
McClaren was Mike Ashley’s first managerial target earlier this month. Now unemployed, will McClaren end up at Newcastle United?
May 25, 2015, 10:26 PM EDT
Go behind the scenes, all-access style, with Xavi on the day of his final Camp Nou appearance.
May 25, 2015, 9:21 PM EDT
With his contract expiring this summer, Dani Alves is posturing — and doing it well — for upcoming negotiations.
May 25, 2015, 8:08 PM EDT
We’re only through 12 weeks of the 2015 season, but one man is threatening to run away with the Golden Boot race already.
May 25, 2015, 6:17 PM EDT
Four of the league’s bottom-five teams won over the weekend, making this week’s TOTW a bit of a “who’s that?” instead of a “who’s who.”
May 25, 2015, 5:30 PM EDT
The problem at Real Madrid isn’t the manager year after year, it’s a problem of accountability, and it comes from the top.
May 25, 2015, 4:46 PM EDT
Few games can make an entire season the way one victory in the Rome derby can do. Only this time, there was CL football on the line.
May 25, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
It’s time to look back at the men who shaped the Premier League’s teams this season: the managers victorious, and gone.
May 25, 2015, 3:10 PM EDT
The workers would make close to $300 a month for the full-time work.
May 25, 2015, 2:21 PM EDT
The American club wisely made its role in the advertisement understated, as it salutes its new midfielder.
May 25, 2015, 1:39 PM EDT
The Italian manager had more or less conceded his job status earlier Monday due to a bout with cervical stenosis.
May 25, 2015, 1:07 PM EDT
It’s time to take a look back at the seasons of four American players in the Premier League, and one who is no longer.
May 25, 2015, 11:56 AM EDT
It’s called the richest game in the world, with an estimated $180 million on the line, though it didn’t provide a wealth of scoring chances.
May 25, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT
Now, it’s time to take a look back at — in no particular order — 10 storylines that helped make the Premier League season a memorable one.
May 25, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
Norwich is hoping for a quick fire return to the PL after being relegated last season, while Middlesbrough was sent packing to the second flight in 2009.
May 25, 2015, 9:00 AM EDT
See what Robbie Earle, Robbie Mustoe and Kyle Martino tabbed as top of the pops in a surprisingly QPR-heavy Top Ten list.
May 25, 2015, 8:45 AM EDT
The Hammers have specific characteristics in mind for the next Premier League boss at the Boleyn Ground.
May 25, 2015, 7:54 AM EDT
Morales played sparingly for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga from 2011-12.
May 25, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
MLS is reportedly pursing the signatures of Andrea Pirlo and Didier Drogba.
May 24, 2015, 11:32 PM EDT
Roundup of Serie A’s final Sunday of the 2014-15 campaign.
- In a career full of blunders, firing Carlo Ancelotti is Florentino Perez’s worst mistake yet 4
- 2014-15 Premier League season review: The managers 0
- Florentino Perez announces firing of Carlo Ancelotti by Real Madrid 0
- Middlesbrough 0-2 Norwich City: Comfortable Canaries back in Premier League 0
- Ten biggest storylines of the Premier League season that was 0
- VIDEO: Premier League’s Top 10 goals of the season, from A(dam) to Z(amora) 0