World Cup: Stiff test awaiting US in Guatemala next week

Marco Pappa

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GUATEMALA CITY — When Guatemala host the United States on June 12 here at Estadio Mateo Flores, the home side will have a decent idea of what to expect from the Americans.

Guatemala and the US seem to run into each other at this stage of just about every World Cup qualifying cycle. But there’s also plenty of insider knowledge of US Soccer in the Guatemalan side, largely due to the MLS experience in the ranks of the Bicolor.

Two former MLSers, Guillermo Ramírez and Gustavo Cabrera, will be absent for the match with match-fixing allegations swirling, but captain Carlos Ruiz spent some of his best years in MLS.

These days, it’s Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa (above) who flies the flag for Guatemala up north. Despite making his living in the US, however, the fleet-of-foot Pappa doesn’t see the upcoming match against the national team too differently from the others La Bicolor will need to win to advance on the path to what would be the country’s first-ever World Cup.

Pappa stressed to MLSsoccer.com that Guatemala will first need to handle business in their opener in Jamaica before concentrating on the Americans.

“It’s not going to be easy, after the game against Jamaica,” Pappa said of next week’s showdown with the US. “We know that the United States is one of the top teams in CONCACAF, but we have to take things one game at a time and get what we can.”

Guatemala headed to Jamaica earlier this week brimming with confidence after a pair of good performances in home-and-away friendly matches against Costa Rica in the last week, including a victory in the return game at Mateo Flores. Pappa attributed the newfound success to the players becoming more accustomed to the unique tactical stylings of Paraguayan coach Ever Almeida.

“The coach knows what he wants, everyone to work well in his own position,” Pappa said. “I think we’re getting used to the positioning and things are starting to work a little better.”

Given past experiences in Central America, the US will be expecting a tooth and nail struggle in Guatemala City. Though the tales of urine bag tossing fans are (sometimes) a little exaggerated, conditions on the field of play are hardly conducive to visiting teams looking to control the ball and play with flair — an explicit US goal of the US under Jurgen Klinsmann.

“It’s hard to play in Central American countries,” New York Red Bulls and Costa Rica defender Roy Miller said after Costa Rica’s loss at Mateo Flores last week. “The soccer is a little rougher, more physical, the teams really want to win and they’re a little more aggressive.”

Miller and his Costa Rican teammates also had some complaints about the field conditions on a rainy Guatemalan night as a steady downpour led to a slow, muddy pitch. At the height of the wet season, the US is likely to get much of the same. 

“It’s going to be a tough game [for the US],” Portland Timbers and Costa Rica national team midfielder Rodney Wallace said. “It’s a qualifier. They come out with a lot of intensity. It’s a tough field to play on, I’m not gonna lie. It should be a tough game. Any away game is going to be a tough game.”