Skip to content

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

Oct 16, 2012, 11:30 AM EST

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. An open letter as Major League Soccer teeters on the brink of a work stoppage

    Mar 3, 2015, 11:26 PM EST

    MLS ALL-STAR GAME COMING BACK TO DENVER Getty Images

    We want to watch games this weekend. We’re not interested in the rationale. Find a way to get us your product.

  2. WATCH: Incredible 60-yard pass leads Montreal ouster of Pachuca in CONCACAF Champions League

    Mar 3, 2015, 10:05 PM EST

    @EtienneLyon @EtienneLyon

    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,

  3. Making the case for the Eastern Conference as a better option

    Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 PM EST

    Joze Altidore AP

    Oh MLS: What fun is there in following the narrative?

  4. I Was There: Austin Gooners have their best singing voices ready for Everton

    Mar 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EST

    Austin Gooners

    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.”

  5. 2015 MLS season preview: Vancouver Whitecaps

    Mar 3, 2015, 7:47 PM EST

    vancouver_whitecaps

    Vancouver may be missing that huge, huge name but is solid top-to-bottom.

  6. 2015 MLS season preview: Colorado Rapids

    Mar 3, 2015, 7:00 PM EST

    Colorado Rapids logo

    It could be a dark year in Commerce City, but don’t forget that this was a promising young team that floundered last year.

  7. VIDEO: Tim Sherwood thinks Villa found turning point in dramatic 2-1 win

    Mar 3, 2015, 6:47 PM EST

    Aston Villa v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Getty Images

    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.

  8. Tuesday’s Premier League roundup: Saints, Villa win; Hull, Sunderland draw

    Mar 3, 2015, 6:28 PM EST

    Videos, recaps, analysis and more from the three PL games during Week 28 on Tuesday.

  9. Ronald Koeman on Saints’ late win: “This is a key moment in our season”

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:53 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    After a late win against Palace ended their goal drought, Saints remain in the top four hunt.

  10. After touchline spat and water bucket destruction, Bruce and Poyet both bring humor

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:52 PM EST

    FBL-ENG-PR-HULL-SUNDERLAND Getty Images

    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.

  11. 2015 MLS season preview: Toronto FC

    Mar 3, 2015, 5:17 PM EST

    Toronto FC logo

    This should be the year TFC breaks its MLS playoffs’ duck. But nothing’s ever certain in Toronto.

  12. Southampton 1-0 Crystal Palace: Mane’s late goal gets Saints back on track (video)

    Mar 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - Premier League Getty Images

    Relief for Southampton, as Mane’s goal seals crucial win to keep top four hopes alive.

  13. Hull City 1-1 Sunderland: Rodwell helps Black Cats steal a point (video)

    Mar 3, 2015, 4:42 PM EST

    Hull City v Sunderland - Premier League Getty Images

    The Tigers stay a point ahead of Sunderland. Hull is in 15th place with 27 points.

  14. Referee in Cyprus reveals match-fixing amid accusations from South Africa

    Mar 3, 2015, 3:29 PM EST

    Panayi AP

    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.

  15. FA delays Mackay racism decision as Cardiff board boycotts Wigan trip

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:35 PM EST

    Mackay Getty Images

    The FA says the finding of “significant new information” has led them to extend the investigation.

  16. Watch Live: Hull City vs. Sunderland (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:09 PM EST

    Hull City v Aston Villa - Premier League Getty Images

    A massive relegation six-pointer between these two north east rivals. Watch live online, here.

  17. Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 2:00 PM EST

    Tim Sherwood New Aston Villa Manager Press Conference and Photo Call Tim Sherwood New Aston Villa Manager Press Conference and Photo Call

    Can Villa get their first win under Sherwood in this huge Midlands derby? Watch live online, right here.

  18. Watch Live: Southampton vs. Crystal Palace (Lineups and Live Stream)

    Mar 3, 2015, 1:50 PM EST

    Southampton v Crystal Palace - FA Cup Fourth Round Getty Images

    Can Saints get back to winning ways as old boss Pardew brings Palace to town? Watch live online, here.