KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The United States heads into the final match of the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying needing only a point to ensure progression. So the approach against Guatemala is simple: eradicate mistakes.
“Someone recently told me that when a goal gets scored you can trace it back to three mistakes in a row. I tend to believe that,” Tim Howard said. “So it's just trying to limit that.”
In particular Howard warned against conceding free kicks within striking range. Guatemala scored a late equalizer from a free-kick against the U.S. earlier in qualifying.
“It's the easy way out of defending to give away fouls in dangerous areas,” Howard said. “Twenty-five yards from goal, the only way you should give a foul is if the guy is clear in on goal. Otherwise you've got to trust your defenders, you've got to trust your goalkeeper. You can't just give away fouls.”
Geoff Cameron, who has solidified his spot as a starter in central defense since his move to Stoke City, was concerned with winning headers fairly but consistently.
“They're going to throw everything at you,” Cameron said. “So tomorrow you've got to be aware of those balls for the knock-downs, the second balls to pick up and then create chances from that.”
Carlos Ruiz provides the main threat to the American backline in that regard. Cameron has faced the Chapines captain several times and knows all about how he tries to rile up his markers, eventually exploiting a mistake ruthlessly, as he did scoring an 85th-minute winner off a corner against Jamaica.
“He moves fast. He's a guy that likes contact,” Cameron said. “If you give him too much contact he looks for the call. You've got to be aware, you've got to be mindful of those types of things.”
Of course, if the American attackers can keep the ball in Guatemala's half, that would relieve pressure on Howard, Cameron and Co.
“If we can get it done, score a goal, I think we've got to push to score another,” Howard said. “I think that's probably the best form of defense for us.”
The attack bailed out the defense near the death against Antigua & Barbuda on Friday. Cameron let Peter Byers surge past him in the box and Clarence Goodson slipped to let Dexter Blackstock score unmarked.
Eddie Johnson scored in stoppage time to bail out the Yanks, putting the United States level with Guatemala on 10 points in Group A.
“We want to get that performance in Antigua out of our minds,” Clint Dempsey said.
A win or a draw automatically sees Jurgen Klinsmann's side qualify for the Hex. A loss will manage as long as Jamaica doesn't make up the goal differential in its game against Antigua.
“We want to get through tomorrow, but when we do get through it shouldn't be joy and elation,” Howard said. “We should be getting through this round. We should be getting up to the Hexagonal and hopefully topping that group.”
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