Oct 16, 2012, 11:30 AM EST
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)
Mar 3, 2015, 11:26 PM EST
We want to watch games this weekend. We’re not interested in the rationale. Find a way to get us your product.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:05 PM EST
Montreal has ensured that Major League Soccer will have at least one semifinalist in this season’s CONCACAF Champions League after a year out of the final four,
Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EST
Oh MLS: What fun is there in following the narrative?
Mar 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EST
If you’d like your supporters group to be featured on future episodes of ‘I Was There’ simply send pictures/video to @NBCSportsSoccer or NBC Sports Soccer on Twitter on Facebook using the #IWasThere.”
Mar 3, 2015, 7:47 PM EST
Vancouver may be missing that huge, huge name but is solid top-to-bottom.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST
It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST
The brash Englishman is happy to call the win a turning point for his club, which moves out of the relegation zone for the time being.
Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST
Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:53 PM EST
After a late win against Palace ended their goal drought, Saints remain in the top four hunt.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:52 PM EST
The pair of managers had to be separated on the touchline after Poyet angrily approached Bruce, who had been loudly criticizing a dive from Sunderland’s Jack Rodwell.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:17 PM EST
This should be the year TFC breaks its MLS playoffs’ duck. But nothing’s ever certain in Toronto.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:54 PM EST
Villa net late win after PK drama, move out of relegation zone.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EST
Relief for Southampton, as Mane’s goal seals crucial win to keep top four hopes alive.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:42 PM EST
The Tigers stay a point ahead of Sunderland. Hull is in 15th place with 27 points.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:45 PM EST
Watch the second half of all three PL games on Tuesday, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:29 PM EST
A referee in Cyprus has come clean, describing an incredibly deep-rooted problem of match-fixing in the country that makes us wonder how prevalent this problem really is.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:35 PM EST
The FA says the finding of “significant new information” has led them to extend the investigation.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:09 PM EST
A massive relegation six-pointer between these two north east rivals. Watch live online, here.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Can Villa get their first win under Sherwood in this huge Midlands derby? Watch live online, right here.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:50 PM EST
Can Saints get back to winning ways as old boss Pardew brings Palace to town? Watch live online, here.
- WATCH: Incredible 60-yard pass leads Montreal ouster of Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League 1
- Tuesday’s Premier League roundup: Saints, Villa win; Hull, Sunderland draw 0
- 2015 MLS season preview: Toronto FC 0
- Aston Villa 2-1 West Bromwich Albion: Late drama hands Sherwood first win (video) 0
- Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mane’s late goal gets Saints back on track (video) 0
- Update on MLS labor strike: Players Union, league at impasse as situation looks dire 8