GUATEMALA CITY — As they prepare for their important World Cup qualifying date here on Tuesday night (10 pm ET, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com), coach Jurgen Klinsmann, veteran striker Landon Donovan and the rest of the US national team know they will need to keep a particular eye on one player they already know very well.
Marco Pappa is by no means a stranger to the US team or its fans. As important to the Guatemalan attack as he is to the Chicago Fire, Pappa has made a name for himself in Major League Soccer after leaving local club Municipal as a youth player. Given Pappa’s American trajectory, Klinsmann told reporters Monday that his team knows what they’re up against where the Fire star is concerned.
“We know him very well, and Landon knows him very well,” Klinsmann told reporters before the US training session Monday afternoon at Estadio Mateo Flores. “Obviously he’s really come around and improved in MLS, and MLS has been good for him. He’s now well respected in MLS and American soccer, and now we’ll see him tomorrow on the international level.”
Pappa will look to add to his growing reputation — one that has seen him linked to some large clubs in Europe — by leading La Bicolor to their first win in decades over the US. Donovan said that the day Guatemala does knock off the US, much of the credit will go to MLS for helping develop that country’s young stars, along with players from across the CONCACAF region.
“One day it’s going to happen, that they beat us here,” Donovan said. “We have more and more Guatemalans playing in MLS, more Hondurans, more Salvadorans, in Mexico, too. And when they’re playing at that higher level, they’re going to improve and their national teams are also going to improve too.”
On Monday, Pappa’s role against the Americans was still in doubt, as coach Ever Almeida expressed displeasure with the attacker’s performance in last Friday’s loss at Jamaica. Pappa came off at halftime in the 2-1 reverse, but with fellow attacking midfield regular Mario Rodríguez struggling with injury and set to be a game time decision against the US, the Fire midfielder is still a likely starter on Tuesday.
Besides Pappa, Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz spent many fruitful years in MLS, meaning the Americans are well aware of his capability to pop up from nowhere and put the ball in the net. Donovan said that familiarity gives the US some advantage, but that La Bicolor are nevertheless a different, improved team after changing looks under Almeida.
“A lot of the faces are the same, Pappa, Carlos Ruiz,” Donovan said. “Now with the new coach they’re starting to really play well. We saw the video against Jamaica and we thought they were unlucky the other day. We know that now, playing at home, they’re a different team.”