A dramatic injury-time winner from Eddie Johnson may have spared the United States’ blushes in Antigua and Barbuda on Friday, but there is still work to be done to avoid the disaster of missing out on next year’s final World Cup qualifying round.
The U.S. head into the last match of their group needing at least a point at home to Guatemala to guarantee progressing to the hexagonal. A loss for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side and a win for Jamaica, plus a three-goal swing in goal difference would see the unthinkable and the U.S. eliminated from qualification before it should have even truly began.
Such a result would almost certainly cost Klinsmann his job. But such is the fickle nature of soccer that a confident victory in Kansas City’s Livestrong Sporting Park will once again see many excited about the future of the national team under the German.
Klinsmann has made it clear that he will try to get his side to play positively, despite the ramifications of defeat.
“Our approach to the game is clear: We want to win,” he said, according to USSoccer.com. “You only can win a game if you attack and go forward, and that’s what we’re going to do. We are not looking for a tie.”
While their unconvincing performances in the group are enough to make U.S. fans less than confident heading into the decisive fixture, the omens, at least, are good. The U.S. have not suffered a World Cup qualifying loss at home in over 11 years.
Their cause is not helped, though, by an increasing list of absentees. Already without Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson through injury or illness, the U.S. will also be missing midfielder Jermaine Jones through suspension for the meeting with Guatemala.
The U.S.’s requirement to emerge with at least a draw should be aided by the fact that their opponents will also make the hexagonal with the same result. Guatemala can enjoy the relative comfort of that position after having scored a late goal themselves last time out, in a 2-1 home victory over Jamaica.
When the U.S. went to Guatemala back in June, the two sides played out a 1-1 draw with Marco Pappa scoring a late equalizer from a free-kick.
D: Cherundolo, Cameron, Bocanegra, Parkhurst
M: Williams, Bradley, Zusi, Johnson
F: Dempsey, Gomez
D: R. Morales, Lopez, E. Morales, Vasquez
M: Figueroa, Leon, Papa, Contreras
F: Ruiz, Lopez
Prediction: Back on home soil and with a boisterous sold-out crowd expected in Kansas City, the United States are strong favorites to get the result they need. The problems encountered under Klinsmann are unlikely to put to bed, though, and the U.S. could well fail to get the dominant victory that the coach desperately wants.
USA 2-1 Guatemala
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier kicks-off at 7.15 p.m. ET. Coverage will be provided by ESPN2, with a live stream available on ESPN3.