BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, October 15, 2012
The United States national team will have a lot on the line when they host Guatemala on Tuesday night in a crucial World Cup Qualifier.
For the United States, the game comes on the heels of an unimpressive 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda where the US needed a late winner from Eddie Johnson to defeat the tiny Caribbean nation on a drenched and muddy field.
The US team has not impressed so far in World Cup qualifying and now faces a game where they likely must secure a result to advance to next year's final qualifying round. The United States and Guatemala are currently tied for first place in Group A of their CONCACAF qualifying group. Jamaica trails both teams by three points.
If the United States wins or draws against Guatemala, they will advance. A loss could send the Americans to a stunning elimination if Jamaica wins against Antigua and Barbuda and overcomes the goal differential where they currently trail by three.
The United States enters into the game with serious injury problems in many key areas. At the start of camp, outside midfielders Brek Shea and Landon Donovan were forced to withdraw from camp because of lingering injuries. Since then, left back Fabian Johnson has been unable to play with the flu and his back up Edgar Castillo injured his ankle.
In addition to the injuries, several problems were evident in the poor performance against Antigua and Barbuda that will likely force head coach Jurgen Klinsmann to make changes to his team.
In the backline, Steve Cherundolo will likely start at right back and Geoff Cameron will start in the middle. Carlos Bocanegra struggled against Antigua and Barbuda and will likely move central defense to partner with Cameron. The left back duties will therefore like fall to Michael Parkhurst.
In the midfield, Jermaine Jones came on for Danny Williams early in the second half against Antigua and he should be the favorite to start the game in defensive midfield. On the right side, Graham Zusi has had success the last two games and will likely start again against Guatemala. In the middle, Michael Bradley is perhaps the team's best player and is finally healthy after missing nearly a month with a leg injury.
The left side of the midfield is very unclear and while Eddie Johnson started there against Antigua and Barbuda, the resurgent Seattle forward is more likely to start up top after his two goal performance on Friday. Partnering with Johnson up top will likely be Clint Dempsey who scored against Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier in June which ended with a score of 1-1.
Guatemala is led by Carlos Ruiz who is the country's all-time leading scorer. As a long-time MLS veteran, Ruiz is a familiar face to many of the players on the U.S. national team. Also key to Guatemala is Marco Pappa who was a standout player for the Chicago Fire but transferred this past summer to Heerenveen in Holland.
The United States has not lost a home World Cup qualifier in 27 games dating back to a 3-2 loss to Honduras at RFK on September 1, 2011. The United States has also qualified for every World Cup since 1990.