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. Top five storylines heading into Week 2 of the Premier League

    Aug 22, 2014, 5:10 PM EDT

    Howard rushed off his line to great effect in the first half to thwart Arsenal's offense. Getty Images

    Toffees and Gunenrs clash, Liverpool head to Man City, London derby time and much more.

  2. Robben dominance, Malanda miss give Bayern opening match win over Wolfsburg

    Aug 22, 2014, 4:59 PM EDT

    arjen_robben AP

    Goal, assist from Dutch star helped deliver Bayern three points to open the Bundesliga season.

  3. Premier League Preview: Aston Villa vs. Newcastle United

    Aug 22, 2014, 4:03 PM EDT

    Andreas Weimann AP

    Can Villa continue their good start to the season? Watch live, Saturday 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN.

  4. Report: Stoke City seeks European loan for Brek Shea; Many interested

    Aug 22, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT

    Burton Albion v Stoke City - Pre Season Friendly Getty Images

    Birmingham City, 1860 Munich, Millwall, Nurnberg… it seems Brek Shea is a man in demand when it comes to his loan from Stoke City.

  5. Bundesliga season preview, predictions: Bayern on top? Sure, but then who?

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT

    Germany Soccer Cup AP

    The Bavarians added Robert Lewandowski, and look poised to lead again. Who are the favorites to emerge in the race for second?

  6. Prindi’s Premier League Picks: United to get it right, Arsenal to stumble

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:29 PM EDT

    Ryan Giggs, Louis van Gaal AP

    Matchweek 2 brings a few killer games including Everton v. Arsenal on Saturday and Manchester City v. Liverpool on Monday.

  7. Profile: The life and times of Mario Balotelli

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT

    Italian forward Mario Balotelli celebrat

    From the early days in Italy, to the craziness of Man City and then back to AC Milan, here’s the timeline of Balotelli’s life so far.

  8. Julian Green gets bench nod for Bundesliga opener, could make league debut

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:03 PM EDT

    Bayern Munich's Julian Green fights for the ball with Al-Merrikh's Ramadan Ajab during their friendly soccer match in Doha Reuters

    The 19-year-old American attacker’s only senior appearance for Bayern was a Champions League sub. That could change today.

  9. La Liga season preview, predictions: Can anyone outlast Real Madrid?

    Aug 22, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT

    Cristiano Ronaldo AP

    Probably not, but with Sevilla and Barcelona strengthening while Atletico deals with roster tumult, look for some changes near the top.

  10. PSV enlists water cannons in next-level ALS Challenge (video)

    Aug 22, 2014, 12:46 PM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 12.40.31 PM

    PSV Eindhoven called the police, upping the ante on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

  11. WATCH: Premier League TV schedule – Week 2

    Aug 22, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT

    PremierLeagueNBC

    Where and how to watch every single PL game in Week 2, right here.

  12. Friday transfer rumor roundup: Manchester Utd mid search, Remy a Spur?

    Aug 22, 2014, 11:57 AM EDT

    1408716222483_wps_1_CRICIUMA_BRAZIL_AUGUST_9_ Getty Images

    A young Brazilian is the newest name linked with Louis van Gaal, while Manchester City could be selling a top young defender

  13. Report: Jermaine Jones to MLS transfer tied up in red tape

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:59 AM EDT

    Brazil Soccer WCup US Germany AP

    Jones wants to head to Chicago, and wants more money if he goes to New England.

  14. Americans Abroad Preview: Guzan, Howard face tests; Bundesliga opens

    Aug 22, 2014, 10:08 AM EDT

    FBL-FRA-LIGUE1-NANTES-PSG Getty Images

    Nantes is off to another strong start, and Ale Bedoya’s club now stares down a match-up with Monaco.

  15. Cardiff City calls for resignation of LMA chief over Mackay statement

    Aug 22, 2014, 9:20 AM EDT

    cardiff_city

    Labeling vile statements in text messages “friendly banter” has Cardiff in a frenzy, and looking for fresh consequences.

  16. WATCH: Arsène Wenger talks Everton, final buys, Balotelli ahead of trip to Goodison Park

    Aug 22, 2014, 8:50 AM EDT

    FC Bayern Muenchen v Arsenal - UEFA Champions League Round of 16 Getty Images

    Arseanl boss calls Everton an important test while praising Liverpool’s impending acquisition.

  17. Balotelli flies to Liverpool for medical, but won’t play against Man City

    Aug 22, 2014, 8:16 AM EDT

    AC Milan v Ajax Amsterdam - UEFA Champions League Getty Images

    The Reds were still sorting out Balotelli’s personality and commitment, and missed a deadline to have him play for the club this weekend.

  18. Georgios Samaras makes the move from Celtic to West Bromwich Albion

    Aug 22, 2014, 7:36 AM EDT

    West Brom West Brom

    The 29-year-old Greek national teamer will try to rebuild his Premier League image after tough times in Manchester from 2006-08.

  19. PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – The Benefit of Mid-Week Edition

    Aug 22, 2014, 2:13 AM EDT

    joao_plata AP

    LA’s loss is RSL’s gain at the top of our pecking order.

  20. Torres in, Hernández and Jiménez out for Mexico matches against Chile, Bolivia

    Aug 21, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 3: Erick Torres #9 of Chivas USA celebrates after scoring a goal against the Houston Dynamo on May 3, 2014 at StubHub Center in Los Angeles, California. Getty Images

    “Cubo” gets his first call from Miguel Herrera, while two established names stay in Europe.

Featured video

Wenger on Everton-Arsenal, NBC, 12pm