The United States Men’s Soccer Team can take a big step toward advancing to the fifth and final CONCACAF qualification round, aka The Hex, when it plays Guatemala twice over the next five days.
Ahead of tonight’s match at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City, Guatemala, Jurgen Klinsmann has made it plain that he wants all six points from this twin bill, a contrast to the coach’s seeming satisfaction when his squad emerged from its first two WCQ games in October with a win and a draw.
As a reminder, the U.S. were one of six teams along with Costa Rica, Mexico, Honduras, Panama, and Haiti to receive a bye straight into the fourth round of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, in contrast, Guatemala skipped just the first round.
When eventually called into action, the Americans beat up on St. Vincent and the Grenadines for a 6-1 home victory in St. Louis, before settling for a 0-0 road draw to Trinidad and Tobago.
As unimpressive as the Yanks were versus the Soca Warriors the U.S. can clinch a place in The Hex if they take care of business tonight and again on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio and other results fall in their favor.
There were not too many surprises in Klinsmann’s roster, although the U.S. coach signalled how much these games mean when he elected to bring DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks into the full team and not the Olympic chasing U23 side, who could certainly do with the duo.
U17 sensation Christian Pulisic was originally called into the big squad by Klinsmann, only to be held back by his Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund with a cold. It has since emerged that the Pennsylvania native could be in Columbus if he heals in time.
After previously naming Tim Howard and Brad Guzan as rotating number one goalkeepers, Klinsmann has been mum on his plan for this qualifier set. Both keepers have seen their fortunes shift in recent months with Howard in the news of late for his summer return to MLS with the Colorado Rapids.
Both Howard and Guzan were relegated to the bench with their English clubs recently, and although Guzan has since regained his stripes with relegation-bound Aston Villa, Howard looks set to end his outstanding Everton career as a benchwarmer.
Klinsmann has corrected his November error by including Clint Dempsey in this roster and has also brought in Jozy Altidore despite the TFC man’s limited playing time so far this season, as he recovered from yet another hamstring injury.
Versatile midfielder/defender Fabian Johnson is another important player battling for fitness and a strained groin could see the Monchengladbach man held out versus Los Chapines.
Johnson has been used as a midfielder by his club but Klinsmann often plays the German-American in a fullback role. Klinsmann would seem to be set at right fullback, where we should expect to see Yedlin, but Johnson aside, the only left fullback on the roster is the long absent Fabian Castillo.
Klinsmann could play one of his center backs at the spot but Castillo looks likely to start in his surprising return to the national team.
Also back in the national team mix is defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman and the RSL vet will surely see some action over the two games, possibly in tonight’s road game when Klinsmann can be expected to play it a bit closer to the vest.
So, should the U.S. be expected to claim all six points? Consider this. We have to go all the way back to January 1998 to find the last U.S. loss to Guatemala, with the Americans going 21 straight without a loss since.
One word of caution for the U.S. Although Guatemala has failed to defeat the Yanks in all those years, Guatemala has managed to come away with a share of the spoils five times in the 12 World Cup Qualifiers that have been played in Guatemala.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION (Club; WCQ Caps/Goals)
GOALKEEPERS (4): David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa; 9/0), Tim Howard (Everton FC; 30/0), William Yarbrough (Club Leon; 0/0)
DEFENDERS (9): Ventura Alvarado (Club America; 0/0), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City; 8/0), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United; 0/0), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin; 0/0), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City; 15/1), Edgar Castillo (Monterrey; 4/0), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca; 8/0), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana; 4/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Sunderland; 0/0)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake; 6/0), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes FC; 3/0), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC; 26/5), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC; 3/0), Ethan Finlay (Columbus Crew SC; 0/0), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach; 11/1), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers FC; 2/0), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution; 0/0)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC; 28/12), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC; 34/13), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes; 0/0), Bobby Wood (Union Berlin; 2/1), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy; 2/1)