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)
Jan 28, 2015, 11:10 PM EST
So what went down on Wednesday, as the transfer window took another step toward slamming shut?
Jan 28, 2015, 10:20 PM EST
Set up for a free kick outside the 18, Eriksen not only sent an arrow whizzing over the goal, but he managed to spin it into the far upper 90.
Jan 28, 2015, 9:58 PM EST
The La Liga giant has woked out a sponsorship deal with United Arab Emirates-based International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC).
Jan 28, 2015, 9:17 PM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann remained upbeat, while Jozy Altidore was obviously disappointed.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:42 PM EST
Breaking down the good, the bad and the ugly from Wednesday’s 3-2 loss in Chile.
Jan 28, 2015, 8:15 PM EST
Jurgen Klinsmann said he played the 3-CB system because he had DeAndre Yedlin available. So did it work?
Jan 28, 2015, 8:00 PM EST
Another match fell apart in a haze of substitutions and mistakes as the United States blew a 2-1 lead in Rancagua on Wednesday night.
Jan 28, 2015, 7:03 PM EST
Maybe Sunderland just doesn’t know how to use its forwards.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:54 PM EST
It was sloppy at times, with the States very much getting used to the 3-5-2 and both sides using a bevy of second-choice players.
Jan 28, 2015, 6:48 PM EST
Brek Shea’s first USMNT goal in a year and a half was a pretty nice finish.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:45 PM EST
Arda Turan was fouled, losing his shoe in the process. Since the linesman didn’t deem the offense worthy of a foul, Turan had one recourse.
Jan 28, 2015, 5:00 PM EST
Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando is between the sticks for the States, and Jermaine Jones continues his time as a center back.
Jan 28, 2015, 4:52 PM EST
After a thriller at Bramall Lane, Chelsea and Spurs will duke it out on March 1 in their shared home city for the League Cup.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:57 PM EST
The lots will be drawn at 10am ET on Thursday. Winner gets Ghana on Feb. 1.
Jan 28, 2015, 3:01 PM EST
Huge trade now makes sense as Kljestan arrives in MLS.
Jan 28, 2015, 2:39 PM EST
With less than a week left in the window, here’s the latest gossip…
Jan 28, 2015, 2:00 PM EST
Toronto native Hoilett chats to PST about MLS, being involved in a Premier League relegation battle and much more in this one-on-one.
Jan 28, 2015, 1:10 PM EST
Wenger get’s his man as Arsenal’s new center back has finally arrived.
Jan 28, 2015, 12:28 PM EST
Costa could miss Chelsea’s massive clash against Man City on Saturday. All the details, here.
Jan 28, 2015, 11:47 AM EST
Chelsea’s injury problems are piling up ahead of their huge tilt against City this Saturday.
- Player Ratings: Some good, some not so good in Chile’s 3-2 win over the U.S. 8
- Chile 3-2 USMNT: Another lead disintegrates for Klinsmann’s crew 1
- Sheffield United 2-2 Tottenham: Eriksen sees Spurs to All-London final in absolute thriller 2
- Africa Cup of Nations roundup: Lots will be drawn to determine second place in Group D 0
- Queens Park Rangers’ Canadian winger Junior Hoilett on Toronto FC, relegation battles and more 0
- English FA charge Chelsea’s Diego Costa with violent conduct after stamp, may miss Man City match 2