COLUMBUS, Ohio – The United States has three games left in its quest to reach the 2014 World Cup.
It has no intention of using all of them.
A strong and confident campaign in CONCACAF's final qualifying group has the U.S. in position to achieve its goal on Tuesday. A victory over archrival Mexico – combined with a Honduras win or draw against Panama – would earn Jurgen Klinsmann's side a trip to Brazil next summer.
[Watch: How USA can double up against Mexico]
If the results don't fall the Americans' way, qualification would likely happen in their last two qualifiers against Jamaica, currently in last place, or fifth-place Panama in October. However, Klinsmann and his players are in no mood to show complacency.
They are determined to take the tension out of the qualification process right away.
"You do not want to wait for anything," Klinsmann said on Monday afternoon. "You want to do it in the next possible occasion. We know what Mexico is going through, but we have to look purely at our end and secure our points to make sure nobody is getting nervous."
The U.S. faces a Mexico team wounded by a series of bad results that has left it in serious danger of missing out on the World Cup. The poor performances by El Tri led to the firing of coach Jose Manuel de la Torre, who was let go hours after Saturday's disappointing 2-1 home loss to Honduras.
Defeat in Columbus would leave Mexico with just eight points from eight games and could push it down as low as fifth in the six-team standings. CONCACAF's top three teams will punch an automatic ticket to Brazil, with the fourth-place finisher facing a home-and-home playoff against New Zealand, the only unbeaten team at the 2010 World Cup.
Mexico's woes have come as a huge surprise, especially the team's abysmal home form, with three draws and last weekend's defeat to Honduras at the famed Azteca Stadium in Mexico City. Yet U.S. captain Clint Dempsey insisted recent results would count for little in Tuesday's battle between two teams that share respect – and hostility – for each other.
"Mexico is a team with quality in it and whatever has happened we need to be prepared properly," Dempsey said. "Obviously you want to get the points as soon as possible. You don't want to be waiting until the last game. We would like to get it wrapped up as soon as we can."
The U.S. has beaten Mexico 2-0 in Columbus in its last three World Cup qualifying meetings on home soil, with Michael Bradley scoring both goals on a freezing night in February 2009. Neither Bradley, who will be out with an ankle sprain, nor the chilly conditions will be present on Tuesday with the atmosphere likely to be as hot as the late-summer Ohio weather. The Americans will also be without suspended trio Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron, all of whom must sit out after picking up too many yellow cards.
Under Klinsmann, the U.S. has gained in confidence and maturity and, despite losing 3-1 in Costa Rica last Friday, no longer appears to hold fear of teams in its own region or further afield. The squad now seems to relish being arguably CONCACAF's biggest power and accepts the pressure that such a distinction entails.
"It is not so cool or fun going into these games any more – it is just pressure," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "The tide has turned over the past 10 or 15 years in CONCACAF. Now we are the hunted and it makes for more pressure. You still get nervous when you are trying to hunt someone down but it is not pressure.
"When you have the bull's-eye on your back, it is tough because every time you don't get the result it is magnified."
Howard reiterated the do-it-now urgency coursing through the U.S. camp.
"The sooner the better," he said. "We don't want to have to wait. It is only a month, but it feels like forever when you are waiting for the next game. So we definitely want to wrap it up as soon as we can."