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)
Apr 23, 2014, 7:32 AM EDT
This is a massive break for the Blaugranas and will no doubt be met with consternation by its rivals.
Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title
Apr 23, 2014, 6:12 AM EDT
Bayern is two steps away from back-to-back titles. Real Madrid’s the same distance from its decima.
Apr 22, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT
Ferguson has kept quiet during the club’s latest transition, but according to reporting Tuesday night, he’ll play a part in finding David Moyes’ replacement.
Apr 22, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT
With injuries forcing his hand, the Blues’ boss wants to concentrate on Champions League.
Apr 22, 2014, 7:51 PM EDT
They only took one point from Vancouver, but LA Galaxy won three spots in this week’s Best XI.
Apr 22, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
Chelsea boss has a big job on his hands ahead of the second leg:
Apr 22, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Mourinho’s approach; Lampard’s card; and the Blues’ two big injuries.
Apr 22, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Chelsea do a job on Atleti, as everything’s up for grabs in the second leg:
Apr 22, 2014, 4:47 PM EDT
Evoking memories of their 2012 championship run, the Blues played out a scoreless draw in leg one.
Apr 22, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT
He missed out on our award in Week One. Six weeks later, those no denying the RSL number one.
Apr 22, 2014, 2:17 PM EDT
Excepting Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United Supporters Trust is really not fond of any higher-up at the club right now.
Apr 22, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT
The lineups are out for Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League semifinal first leg between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea in Spain.
Apr 22, 2014, 12:58 PM EDT
As much as he loves the club, perhaps even Giggs knows he’s not completely ready for the gig.
Apr 22, 2014, 12:02 PM EDT
A lost Super Bowl bet means Colorado defender Shane O’Neill will be enjoying a gooey treat courtesy of Seattle’s DeAndre Yedlin.
Apr 22, 2014, 11:20 AM EDT
The celebration has now cost Anelka a job, West Bromwich Albion some sponsors and Sagbo some money.
Apr 22, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT
Replacing Sir Alex was always a tall order, but Moyes never seemed to fit.
Apr 22, 2014, 10:48 AM EDT
So far head coach Mark Hughes likes what he’s seen.
Apr 22, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
“We are no longer favorites,” said the Dutchman.
Apr 22, 2014, 9:10 AM EDT
David Moyes is out at Manchester United after less than a year. How did we get here?
Apr 22, 2014, 8:58 AM EDT
The hotseat at United just got hotter, but has it become a no-win situation for potential successors?
- Barcelona’s transfer ban suspended by FIFA, should allow club to make summer moves 0
- Champions League preview: Defending champion Bayern Munich looks to end Real Madrid quest for 10th title 0
- Alex Ferguson backed David Moyes’ firing, will help select a successor 0
- ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week – Week 7 0
- Five moments that defined Chelsea’s Champions League trip to Atlético Madrid 0
- Three things we learned from Atletico Madrid vs. Chelsea 2