The United States will likely squeak on by to the final round of World Cup qualifying, but don't expect these next two games to be pretty.
The Yanks likely need four points against Antigua and Guatemala to advance to the Hexagonal. And, according to Jurgen "Nasty" Klinsmann, the USA will do whatever is necessary to make that happen.
"We've got to get these three points no matter what," he said in a conference call from Miami.
Talk of a proactive approach, of easiness on the eye, of a national playing identity all go out the window on the plane to North Sound, Antigua (assuming they roll down). Elimination is on the line.
"This is our approach over the next couple days," Klinsmann said, "to build this sense of fearlessness and urgency."
The United States has struggled in this round of qualifying. The Stars and Stripes drew in Guatemala and lost to Jamaica for the first time ever. Especially in away matches, the team has looked clunky, disjointed and uncomfortable. It has seven points, knotted atop Group A with Jamaica and Guatemala, who play each other on Friday.
These next two U.S. games – in Antigua on Oct. 12 and against Guatemala in Kansas City, Kan. on Oct. 16 – won't provide a chance to bust out a purring offense.
Some early evidence of the German coach's thinking came on Monday, when he named forwards Eddie Johnson and Alan Gordon in the roster ahead of Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd or Chris Wondolowski. Altidore and Wondo lead the scoring charts in the Dutch Eredivisie and MLS, respectively, and Altidore's omission, in particular, caused a gaggle of questions from reporters on the conference call (and, naturally, the ever-incensed Twitterati).
Johnson and Gordon are enjoying heady seasons in MLS. Johnson has hit 14 goals for Seattle Sounders FC, and Gordon tops the league with 0.9 goals per 90 minutes. But both represent agricultural options – hefty frames with strong aerial presences. Klinsmann also praised their hold-up play, but they represent battering ram options from a tactical standpoint and a way to counter the strategy of both qualifying opponents, who are likely to set up bunker lines just outside the 18-yard box.
"They will make it really, really difficult," Klinsmann said.
Pace in behind becomes irrelevant in that situation, so Klinsmann went with beefier options. Herculez Gomez should start, but Johnson or Gordon could see significant time.
"We need to adjust to whatever it is and find ways to play through and come through, even if it is sending in long balls or high balls," Klinsmann said.
In earlier interviews, he has mentioned a willingness to chuck a stodgy central defender into the attack if needed late in a match. And when it comes to the problem of qualifying, the 48-year-old is willing to throw any possible solution at it, regardless of aesthetics.
"It might be not the prettiest way to do it, but you've got to do it," Klinsmann said. "Do we want to always play good-looking football? Yes, we'd love to. But it's not always possible."
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- Alan Gordon
- Jozy Altidore