"Draw and we advance" may not be the most exciting rallying cry you've ever heard, but that's the exact situation the United States Men's National Team will find themselves in this evening when they host Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier. Both of those teams will move on regardless of what goes down in Kansas City if Jamaica are unable to defeat Antigua & Barbuda at home. USMNT supporters already planning on making treks for "The Hex" shouldn't be circling dates on their calendars just yet, though.
It's been a very up-and-down year for US Men's Soccer as a whole. Wins at Italy and at Mexico lost their luster due to the disappointment caused by failing to qualify for the 2012 London Olympics, and the loss while away to Jamaica last month coupled with this past Friday's close call at A & B have the US facing a scenario that could see them eliminated from the 2014 World Cup nearly two years before the tournament actually begins. Think it's crazy to suggest such a disaster occurring?
The USMNT earning a win or even a draw tonight is far from a guarantee at this point of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. A depleted US side struggled to contain Antigua & Barbuda throughout the second half of Friday's game, and they were one better-struck curling shot away from being down 2-1 at the beginning of stoppage time. Guatemala aren't Antigua & Barbuda. They haven't been held scoreless in a single World Cup qualifier since this past June, and they did well in disrupting and frustrating the Americans when these teams met on June 12.
Those banking on the home-field advantage that comes with the US hosting a game at Livestrong Sporting Park bolstering the squad should remember that such an atmosphere can quickly work against the team. Consider this: Guatemala strike in the first 20 minutes as they did against Jamaica on Friday. At the same time, fans around the arena start finding out via their smartphones that Jamaica are beating A & B 1-0 or, worse, 2-0. All of a sudden, "We Love Ya!" songs that were echoing around the venue at the beginning of the match are replaced by murmurings of a nervous audience witnessing what was the unthinkable just hours before.
Jamaica are beating Antigua & Barbuda. It's a fact that the USMNT and each of the team's supporters must realize entering tonight's match. Jamaica will be hosting a party on Tuesday evening while facing a team that's earned just one point and netted three goals during qualifying. Two of those goals came against the US.
The nightmare for the United States is more realistic and more possible than you may want to admit. They have looked uneasy in each qualifier, and could find themselves playing for their World Cup lives if down 1-0 to Guatemala in the first half while Jamaica is routing A & B 3-0, 4-0 or worse. Neither of those events occurring would shock me. Klinsmann has been clear leading up to this game that the US are only looking for the win tonight. Pride comes before the fall, as they say, something the US boss had better remember if this game is tied in the final ten minutes of play.
Nobody within the USMNT should be looking at any scoreboards or trying to figure out goal differences tonight. Taking care of business on the field will erase any and all concerns for the foreseeable future. For what it's worth, I do believe that the United States will earn the necessary result tonight. They're simply too talented and they understand the task that is in front of them.
With that said, I'll likely be without any fingernails if they are down a goal at the halftime break.
- Sports & Recreation