The United States approach their final two matches in their semifinal round of World Cup qualifying in the unexpectedly anxious position of needing four points to guarantee progression to the final hexagonal.
That quest begins with a trip to Antigua and Barbuda on Friday, followed by a contest with Guatemala in Kansas City on Tuesday.
In theory two wins should be very much attainable. The U.S. beat Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 when the sides met on American soil back in June, with the Caribbean nation having just claimed one point in their four games to date.
However, as the U.S. found out to their cost against Jamaica last month, nothing can be taken for granted. It is that defeat that leaves Jurgen Klinsmann’s side in this potentially tricky situation as they prepare for the closing two matches level on seven points with Jamaica and Guatemala.
The German is fully aware of the challenge awaiting his side.
“We have our backs against the wall,” he said, according to USSoccer.com. “We want to win both games, so we have to go into Antigua and, from the first second on, go for goals and get those three points.
“You can’t underestimate Antigua for one second,” he added. “They have done amazingly well in the group, even if they just have one point.“
Klinsmann made a surprising selection in his squad for the two matches, as he left out striker Jozy Altidore and instead included Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon. The decision caused a stir given Altidore’s impressive form in the Netherlands for AZ Alkmaar, where he is the Eredivisie’s joint top scorer with eight goals. Also omitted was Major League Soccer’s top scorer Chris Wondolowski.
Klinsmann’s squad has also been hit hard with injuries. The highest profile absentee is Landon Donvovan, while midfielder Brek Shea and left-backs Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo are also absent.
The match between the sides back in June was the only previous time the U.S. and Antigua and Barbuda have faced off. Goals from Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomes helped the U.S. to victory in Tampa, Florida.
The majority of the Antigua and Barbuda squad is taken from local side Antigua Barracuda FC, while there are also a handful of players who ply their trade in Britain, including Reading’s Mikele Leigertwood.
Antigua and Barbuda (probable)
G: De Castro
D: Joseph, Dublin, Blakely, Francis-Agnol
M: Murtagh, Burton, Leigertwood, Thomas, Robinson
D: Cherundolo, Cameron, Bocanegra, Torres
M: Williams, Zusi, Bradley, Kljestan
F: Dempsey, Gomez
Prediction: The U.S. have struggled on their travels so far in this section and may not have things all their own way in Antigua. The pressure will be eased considerably if Klinsmann’s side can register an early goal, but if it doesn’t come then it could be a nervy 90 minutes. However, one has to think that the U.S. will find a way to come out on top.
Antigua and Barbuda 0-2 USA
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will be shown on beIN Sport from 7 p.m. ET, with a live stream, which you view at your own discretion, available here.