Skip to content

The big preview: United States-Guatemala, a shot at the World Cup on the line

Oct 16, 2012, 11:30 AM EDT

United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

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.

(MORE: the qualifying scenarios)

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.

(MORE: Klinsmann and U.S. players love this facility)

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.

(MORE: The United States can figure on a physical match)

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.

(MORE: Tim Howard says “don’t give up free kicks”)

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?

(MORE: Klinsmann assures U.S. will not play for a tie)

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.

(MORE: Michael Bradley explains why a commanding win is luxury, not necessity)

(Check back through the afternoon … we’ll have even more on tonight’s match)

Latest Posts
  1. Two left flying MLS flag for 2015 CONCACAF Champions League quarters

    Oct 24, 2014, 10:25 AM EDT

    Ignacio Piatti, Connor Lade, AP

    An all-MLS final appearance is impossible thanks to seeding, and Montreal and DC can only face-off if they win in the quarterfinals this winter.

  2. Introducing: “The 2 Robbies ‘Football’ Show” on NBCSportsRadio.com

    Oct 24, 2014, 9:38 AM EDT

    Earle-Mustoe

    The purpose of the show is for the Robbies to hear from the fans on this call-in show, so dial 855-323-4622 and have your say.

  3. El Clasico: Luis Suarez, Barcelona and Real Madrid together at last

    Oct 24, 2014, 9:22 AM EDT

    FBL-ESP-LIGA-REALMADRID-BARCELONA-CLASICO Getty Images

    El Clasico is upon us, and my goodness will it be a doozy between Real Madrid and Barcelona on Saturday at the Bernabeu.

  4. Tear gas and rubber bullets used by Lille police against Everton fans

    Oct 24, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT

    France Lille Fan Violence AP

    French police had arrested a man for selling drugs, according to the BBC, and that earned the ire of already on-edge Everton supporters.

  5. Top European clubs prefer to play Qatar World Cup in May

    Oct 24, 2014, 7:44 AM EDT

    Qatar 2022

    The European Club Association includes at least one club from every nation in UEFA and includes Manchester United, Chelsea and Barcelona.

  6. Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama fearful of Ebola at Africa Cup of Nations

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:06 PM EDT

    Nigeria's Super Eagle goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama catches the ball during a World Cup 2014 qualifier football match against Ethiopia on October 13, 2013 in Addis Ababas. AFP PHOTO / SIMON MAINA Getty Images

    Lille and Nigeria goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama thinks it would be dangerous to hold the Africa Cup of Nations with the Ebola outbreak.

  7. Dunga, Brazil football federation create new code of conduct for national team

    Oct 23, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT

    Carlos Dunga

    Brazil’s national football team has a new code of conduct under manager Dunga.

  8. WATCH: Spurs midfielder Erik Lamela strikes astounding ‘rabona’ goal

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:57 PM EDT

    FBL-EUR-C3-TOTTENHAM-SHERIFF TIRASPOL

    Wonderful touch and power utilized on a first-class goal from Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Erik Lamela.

  9. Tottenham striker Harry Kane scores hat trick, then allows goal as emergency netminder

    Oct 23, 2014, 8:20 PM EDT

    Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane, left, and Aston Villa's Matthew Lowton. AP

    Harry Kane notched a hat trick in Tottenham’s Europa League victory over Asteras Tripoli, and he then found himself manning the goal as a netminder following a Hugo Lloris red card.

  10. Lille 0-0 Everton: Toffees stay unbeaten in Group H

    Oct 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT

    distin_3083675b Getty Images

    Lille and Everton played to a 0-0 draw at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Europa League group stage competition.

  11. Frank Lampard could be fit to play in City’s match vs. West Ham

    Oct 23, 2014, 5:43 PM EDT

    Lampard AP

    Manchester City’s Frank Lampard could be fit to play against West Ham in Premier League competition on Saturday.

  12. Cristiano Ronaldo on El Clasico: ‘I won’t be playing against Messi. I’ll be playing against Barcelona.’

    Oct 23, 2014, 4:53 PM EDT

    cristiano_ronaldo AP

    “I won’t be playing against Messi — I’ll be playing against Barcelona,” says Ronaldo, concerning his duel with Barcelona’s Lionel Messi.

  13. Brendan Rogers has faith in Balotelli, but noncommittal on striker’s future

    Oct 23, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT

    Balotelli AP

    Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers likes what Mario Balotelli has to offer, but he’s unsure if the forward will last a while at Anfield.

  14. VIDEO: Can Manchester United beat Chelsea? PST Extra breaks it down

    Oct 23, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT

    PST Extra - Oct. 23

    Will the Blues lose their first game of the season away at Old Trafford on Sunday? JPW and Prindi analyze that and more.

  15. Father auctions his son’s allegiance… Manchester United or Manchester City?

    Oct 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    FBL-ENG-PR-MAN CITY-MAN UTD Getty Images

    Little Eddie won’t have a say in who he supports, but it’s all for a good cause.

  16. Sunil Gulati backs Jurgen Klinsmann following MLS dispute, USMNT “on the same page”

    Oct 23, 2014, 1:12 PM EDT

    GulatiKlinsmann Getty Images

    Gulati: “Jurgen is our coach and technical director, and I fully expect that to be the case through to the 2018 World Cup.”

  17. Diego Costa remains a doubt for Chelsea amid illness, groin strain

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT

    With Costa struggling to make the bench, plus Remy out, Chelsea are running out of strikers.

  18. All eyes on Origi: Tim Howard, Everton wary of on-loan Liverpool forward

    Oct 23, 2014, 11:04 AM EDT

    Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Getty Images

    Howard: “I know what he likes to do, but that doesn’t mean I will always be capable of stopping him.”

Featured video

PST Extra: Can United beat Chelsea?