GUATEMALA CITY – Estadio Mateo Flores was quiet Monday afternoon as the US ran through one last light workout in preparation for the second of this month’s pair of World Cup qualifiers.
But the veterans on this American team know that won’t be the case Tuesday night, when the US face a Guatemalan team desperate for a win in front of a partial crowd in the heart of the nation’s capital (10 pm ET, pay-per-view, LIVE CHAT on MLSsoccer.com).
“It’s eerily quiet in here tonight,” goalkeeper Tim Howard – a member of the American side that secured a 1-0 victory at Mateo Flores four years ago – told reporters on Monday. “But tomorrow, it’s going to be rocking and a really tough environment for us, so we need to be ready.”
PREVIEW: Guatemala vs. USA
The returnees of that 2008 trip will tell their teammates that the US will indeed need to be ready for everything Tuesday night – starting with a hostile crowd and a choppy field. The team has at least lucked out on the weather, as an unseasonal cold front moved through Sunday afternoon, pushing the rain clouds away.
While the Americans have prepared physically and tactically for the match, Howard said there’s not much the veterans can do to help those new to the environment they will experience at Mateo Flores.
“There’s nothing you can really say or do to prepare guys that haven’t been here before, other than that you have good body language, and have a good rapport with them over the last eight, nine, 10 games [to carry] you through tough moments,” he said. “The homework that we need for tomorrow night has already been done.”
Right back Steve Cherundolo, another member of the 1-0 win here four years ago, suspected that the referee might also become a factor. The Bundesliga defender was sent off in the second half of that match, just before Carlos Bocanegra nodded home the winner.
“You have to keep going,” said Cherundolo. “It’s really what happens on the field – am I covering my man, am I playing clean passes, am I winning my tackles? That’s the important stuff. So the team that really focuses on those issues throughout the match for 90 minutes will come out on top.”
Given all those factors, and despite the gap in quality between the Americans and Guatemalans in terms of club affiliations and career trajectories, no one is under any illusion that this match will be an easy win for the visitors. To get three points, Howard said the US will need to call on more than their advantage in skill when they takes the field.
“There’s a lot of ways to win football games,” Howard added. “Sometimes it’s quality and class, and sometimes it’s grit and determination, sometimes a mixture of both and other times, it’s luck.”