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Most pressure on a U.S. World Cup qualifier in a decade

Mar 22, 2013, 10:30 AM EDT

United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

DENVER – All World Cup qualifiers come with pressure. The home matches come with extra helpings; everyone knows the recipe for World Cup qualification means picking off points on the road, but it demands wins at home.

So there’s always a load to bear in these things.

But the weight of this one feels different. The United States may not be wearing the heaviness as a burden, not just yet, but it’s there.

I wondered when the last the United States marched into a home stadium for a qualifier with as much pressure attached? Because it has surely been a while.

More than a decade, it seems.

Every round has a match or two where a result is needed or even required, or very bad things will happen. Heck, there was even a scenario last fall where a loss in the semifinal round finale could have seen the American’s (gasp!) tumble completely out of the World Cup. As in, “out!”  No Brazil 2014, no chance at World Cup glory – but firings and recriminations surely arriving in force, at military grade strength.

(MORE: PST match preview with lots of links)

But even then, at home against Guatemala, the United States players and staff had a certain assuredness, and media members who were not prone to dramatic overreaction understood the true odds, which still leaned heavily the U.S. way. Sure enough, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team rolled into the final round with a comfortable win that night  outside  Kansas City.

A loss tonight does not mean elimination. But … Lose tonight and lose Tuesday in Mexico (likely) and things could unravel completely inside a camp already showing fissure. Hard questions about Klinsmann and whether he needs immediate replacement will pepper the U.S. camp, and federation president Sunil Gulati would be forced to think seriously about making a huge move prior to the next team gathering in mid-May.

I talked to Kasey Keller during yesterday’s U.S. practice. The longtime U.S. goalkeeper remembers the qualifier back in October of 2001 as having an enormous weight attached.

The team had lost three in a row, including one at home (the last qualifier loss on U.S. soil, in fact) and were sitting a meager fourth in a six-team group with two contests remaining, perilously close to not qualifying for World Cup 2002 in Asia.

(Plus, no team carrying the United States banner had participated in a major event since 9/11 the attacks, so there was added patriotic weight, as well.)

Before that, the qualifier in Portland back in 1997, where Tab Ramos came through with an enormous lift toward France ’98, started with so much on the line. (Still one of the best atmospheres I’ve seen and felt for a U.S. World Cup qualifier.)

The weight is always there, but rarely is it as massive as this one.

  1. tylerbetts - Mar 22, 2013 at 12:46 PM

    I don’t know. This seems like hyperbole to me.

    We’re on game two of a ten game marathon. Yes, we got an unfortunate result in our first game. Yes, we looked bad at times – okay, most of the time – during that game.

    But, the mantra is “win at home, tie on the road”.

    So, we’re one point from where we should be in the standings based on that. In fact, Grant Wahl posted standings for the Hex based on how well teams are doing in the Win Home / Draw Away mantra. It looks like this:

    Honduras (0)
    Jamaica (0)
    Costa Rica (0)
    U.S. (-1)
    Mexico (-2)
    Panama (-2)

    I would argue the only team in CONCACAF that is truly feeling high, high, high pressure right now is Panama. Now, with poor results today, Mexico and the US would join them in that category.

    But, hey, the hyperbole is good. In that it’s another sign of our growing as a soccer loving nation. I just don’t think this is that pressure-packed of a qualifier.

    • krazymunky - Mar 22, 2013 at 12:57 PM

      This is true for how well/bad teams are doing but for pressure it doesnt factor in expectations.

      USA and Mexico are expected to qualify, Panama not so much

    • Steve Davis - Mar 22, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      But that is exactly it. They HAVE to win at home, and due to one loss on the road already, and likely an impending one, there is less wiggle room. Plus, probably should have mentioned the strongest hex yet … there are no easy outs in this one.

  2. danielofthedale - Mar 22, 2013 at 3:08 PM

    I think this is a massive game! Yes if we lose it will only be two of ten games and there is still a theoretical 24 points out there. But points and pressure do not follow the growth rate. Sure we could only be three or four points out of the top there after next week and that is not biggie. However points follow a linear relationship, pressure is not linear but exponential. We draw at home and the pressure to get some points, any point in Mexico increases even more. Lose that game and the pressure to get six points in the next two games is almost off the scale and this team is already showing signs that it might not have the mental fortitude to handle much more negative momentum.

    Is a lose tonight the end of the world? No, the asteroid is just getting bigger in the telescope and moving faster though.

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