Time is now for US with Hex qualification in the balance

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – For most of the past two days, the Kansas City metro area has been shrouded in grey, scattered thunder claps and lightning bolts punctuating steady rainfall and general dreariness.

On Sunday morning, as the United States national team took the field at Livestrong Sporting Park, the sun finally began to peak out from behind the cloud cover. By the time Jurgen Klinsmann’s side finished running through a light session, the skies had cleared and a stormy weekend seemed squarely in the past.

For the most part, the ominous clouds that hovered over the US’ World Cup qualifying campaign have cleared up as well. Friday’s last-gasp 2-1 victory in Antigua & Barbuda was by no means an encouraging performance, but it has the US in line to move onto the Hexagonal with either a draw or victory on home soil against Guatemala.

Of course, there are no guarantees, but the next step is now well within reach despite a few much-maligned stumbles along the way.

READ: Johnson defends gritty US performance in crucial win

“We said the other day before the game, you get to the end of this round and there’s a real sense of, ‘Now it’s time,’” Michael Bradley told reporters after training. “It’s time to step on the field and do whatever you have to do to make sure you put yourself in the next round.

"We’ve had to fight our way through different moments and different games, but that’s normal. That’s what qualifying is all about.”

So far qualifying has also been all about keeping things in perspective as an anxious fanbase waits for Klinsmann’s promises of proactive play to come to fruition and deliver the kind of regional dominance displayed by, for instance, Mexico.

The Americans may not have coasted through CONCACAF’s semifinal round, but they’re now just 90 minutes away from the Hex. On Tuesday, the US have an opportunity to wipe the slate clean of disappointments in Guatemala City, Kingston and, nearly, North Sound.

Months of preparations have come down to 90 minutes against a Guatemalan side that the Americans should beat to keep their Brazil 2014 dream alive. And, frankly, that’s all that matters.

“The most important thing is to put yourself in a position to get out of the group and put yourself in a position to qualify for the World Cup,” forward Clint Dempsey said. “That’s when you’re really going to be able to gauge what kind of style we play and how good we really are is in that major competition if we get there.”

READ: Fabian Johnson to miss USMNT qualifier vs. Guatemala

The fact that Dempsey included the word “if” might make US fans shudder, but by admitting the possibility of failure, the Tottenham attacker gave some insight into the mindset of this US team.

It may not always be pretty. It may not always be easy or straightforward. For now, that’s OK. This stage of World Cup qualifying isn’t really about any of those things.

It’s about staying on track to accomplish a single goal, booking a ticket to Brazil, and the US are poised to take the next step in that pursuit Tuesday night in Kansas City.

“At the end of the day, when you get to the World Cup, nobody remembers how you get there,” Bradley said. “There are twists, there are turns, there are ups and there are downs along the way, but the ability to, as a team, be strong, have a hard mentality and be able to do whatever you have to do to get yourself through a game, to get yourself through to the next round, to go to a World Cup. That’s all that matters.”