Young players face test in Guatemala

Four days after defeating Mexico 2-0 at Columbus Crew Stadium to secure a spot in next summer's FIFA World Cup in Germany, the U.S. national team will again be in action Wednesday night, this time traveling to Guatemala in yet another qualifying match. Kickoff is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET and the game can be seen live on ESPN2.

U.S. manager Bruce Arena is likely to field a drastically different side against the Guatemalans than he did against Mexico, giving younger players an opportunity to shine in a high-pressure match against a team desperate for a result to keep their own World Cup dreams alive.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for this group to demonstrate they can perform in this type of environment," Arena told ussoccer.com. "Can they win a game where the home team is desperate, the crowd is against them, and the conditions are difficult? Players that can do that are the kind of players that can possibly help your team in a World Cup. It's a great chance for them to prove that."

The majority of Arena's European-based players have journeyed to their respective homes, while several MLS stars have been summoned to join (or rejoin) the ranks for the Red, White and Blue. The 18-man contingent consists of 16 domestic players, including three (Jimmy Conrad/Kansas City Wizards, Chad Marshall/Columbus Crew, Nick Garcia/Kansas City Wizards) each seeking his first-ever U.S. appearance in a qualifying tilt. They will look to continue the USA's amazing World Cup qualifying shutout streak, which currently sits at 507 minutes.

Guatemala has historically been a tough place for the U.S. to find results, though, as the side has never won a qualifier in Guatemala City. However, the U.S. hasn't lost to the Central Americans in 17 years, the last defeat coming on Jan. 10, 1988.

Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder/forward Landon Donovan has been the best player for the U.S. through qualifying, netting seven goals and eight assists. He is the only U.S. player to have appeared in every qualifying match, though Arena could give the well traveled star a rest or use him only if necessary off the substitutes' bench.

Wednesday's match is the second between the sides in the final round of qualifying, the U.S. having won the first meeting by a 2-0 score on March 30. Eddie Johnson (FC Dallas) and Steve Ralston (New England Revolution) did the scoring that day, and both are available for selection tonight.

Two of Major League Soccer's top three scoring leaders could get a chance to make their mark on the international stage, with both Jeff Cunningham (Colorado Rapids) and Taylor Twellman (New England Revolution) looking for action up top. Goalkeeper Matt Reis and midfielder Clint Dempsey are both on the roster, meaning the Eastern Conference-leading Revolution contribute four players to Arena's side.

The Guatemalans are not without their MLS representation, with Guillermo Ramirez (Los Angeles Galaxy) and Gustavo Cabrera (Real Salt Lake) likely to see action for the hosts. However, Guatemala's most potent scoring threat, FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz, will not be available as he serves a suspension for yellow card accumulation.

Guatemala currently sits in fourth place in the hexagonal with seven points, while the U.S. leads the group on 18. Second-place Mexico (16 points) will face last place Panama (two points) in other action Wednesday in Mexico City, while third-place Costa Rica (10 points) hosts fifth-place Trinidad & Tobago (seven points). The top three teams after 10 games each (one home and one away against each finalist) qualify automatically for Germany 2006. The fourth-place team will enter a two-leg playoff against the winner of the Bahrain vs. Uzbekistan playoff in Asian qualifying.

Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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