The road to the World Cup begins in earnest on Wednesday for the US national team in what just might be the least favorable place the Americans can possibly play: San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The US have spoken all week about the tough challenge that awaits them against Los Catrachos later today (4 pm ET on beIN Sport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann reiterated that point during a media session on Tuesday. Perhaps one of the biggest challenges for the US team is the quick turnaround for some of its European-based stars, some of whom joined the team as late as Monday.
“For the players, this qualifying round will be a new lesson,” Klinsmann said. “Coming from Europe, from the Bundesliga and the Premier League, suddenly we meet in Miami and fly to Honduras where they are going to try to beat the s--- out of you. This is what the players will have to understand. That the game will be a battle."
One of the biggest storylines in today’s game will be the performance of one of those European stars: Timmy Chandler. The German-American defender has waffled back and forth with his commitment to the US team since Klinsmann tried to call him up for the Gold Cup last year, but with an appearance today he’ll be cap tied to the US, and could become a backline fixture if the team can reach Brazil in 2014.
"There's been a lot of back and forth, probably too much if you ask me, but that's my opinion,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We think he's a big part of the team. He's young, but he brings a lot of grit and he's a really good player. Obviously, commitment is a big thing for us, so if that's what he's going to do then we're excited.”
One player noticeably absent in Honduras is Landon Donovan, the LA Galaxy star still on walkabout and trying to figure out a potential return date to his soccer career. US midfielder Michael Bradley addressed his longtime teammate’s absence on Tuesday, telling media that “when his head is in it, when his heart is in it, he is a big part of things here. … But at the same time, life goes on here.”
How will former Houston Dynamo star Geoff Cameron feature in today’s match? He’ll likely start in the back in perhaps the biggest game of this career to this point, but he insists his recent shift to the English Premier League should be a boost.
“When you’re playing in the EPL, the crowds are tremendous, they’re loud, they’re passionate, they’re tremendous,” he said. “So it’s similar to the aspect here of the hostile environment. But saying that, European teams can’t really copy the feeling here. But overall you know what to expect – that the fans aren’t going to be great to you.
Two more quick hits looking ahead to the match: MLSsoccer.com’s complete match preview, and the latest podcast from the folks at Soccer By Ives, who attempt to predict the starting lineup for the US.
Has there been a reporter in Honduras who hasn’t filed the obligatory “danger in San Pedro Sula” story this week? Didn’t think so. Here’s the latest installment, courtesy of the The New York Times.
As for the Honduran side, we’ll let former Houston Dynamo forward Carlo Costly get the word in here ahead of the game: “You have to go with a knife between your teeth, and battle them one on one to get a result."
Too early to talk about 2014? How about 2018? SI.com takes a shot at predicting the US roster if the Americans do indeed make it to Brazil, while word is out that Fox is grooming college basketball broadcasting star (and San Jose Earthquakes radio man) Gus Johnson to be the voice of the 2018 World Cup.
And here’s a list of the all the international action today, including big matchups between Brazil and England, Spain and Uruguay and Italy and Holland. The Africa Cup of Nations also resumes on Wednesday, and here’s a look at an interesting semifinal round.
The match-fixing scandal that has rocked international soccer, meanwhile, continues to make headlines this morning, highlighted by Europol chief Rob Wainwright’s recent comments about claims that match-fixing occurred in 380 matches, including Champions League and World Cup qualifiers, played between 2008 and 2011.
"This is the first time we have established substantial evidence that organized crime is now operating in the world of football," Wainwright said. This, he said, "highlights a big problem for the integrity of football in Europe."
With all eyes on a supposed Singapore-based betting cartel behind the scandal, the local authorities there have agreed to help Europol with the investigation.
The talk in England, meanwhile, is which Champions League match was supposedly fixed, and all indications are that one of the EPL’s biggest clubs may have been involved.
And one last thought on this topic: Burkina Faso coach Paul Put was suspended by the Belgian FA for match-fixing and is currently serving a two-year ban, but he had this to say about some of the pressures involved with the crime while he was in Belgium: "The whole of Belgian football was sick at that time. I was threatened by the mafia. My child was not safe. They threatened me with weapons and things like that. It's not nice to talk about these things, but this is the reality."
One last bit of international news, and one a much more positive note: Canada’s U-20 roster is out. Check out the list of talented youngsters, many of whom boast MLS ties.
On to the MLS preseason, where the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders opened their 2013 rivalry in Arizona on Tuesday. The Timbers got the win, but there appear to plenty of reasons why the Sounders weren’t up to the task, including food poisoning that affected as many as eight Seattle players.
Does José Luis Sánchez Solá know something we don’t? The Chivas USA head coach is upset that goalkeeper Dan Kennedy’s dislocated pinky finger is still healing, and he can’t quite understand why it’s taking so long.
"It's a whole different type of medicine they use here," he explained. "I would start to get angry but I don't want to get angry. The recovery of players here is entirely different in this league."
Are Chivas USA about to get a boost in the form of a former MLS star? Find out which mercurial forward has been linked to a move to LA.
Dilly Duka’s time in Columbus is up, but he’s trying to explain what went wrong. Was he too complacent with the Crew? Evidently so.
Brek Shea’s days are done in Dallas, meanwhile, but not everyone is sulking. Here’s a columnist that could not care less if the rising star won’t be back in 2013.
The New England Revolution may have lost their chance to land defender Hunter Freeman, but there’s still hope that Chad Barrett will suit up at Gillette sometime in the future. The folks at The Bent Musket have the insight.
Dax McCarty doesn’t appear to be moving anytime soon. The hard-working midfielder has inked a new deal with the Red Bulls.
The Colorado Rapids are about to get their first look at newcomer Kevin Harbottle, who is expected to arrive in Denver today.
What will the San Jose Earthquakes do without Simon Dawkins? They’re also ready on the prowl for his replacement.
Is MLS about to get another Colombian import? Here’s the latest player linked to a move to the States.
Two bits of news from the world of television broadcasting: the 30-game television schedule for TSN and RDS is out, while Real Salt Lake fans can mark their calendars now for which games will appear on local television in Salt Lake City.
Still trying to figure out the story behind Stoke? Here’s a quick primer for US fans wondering what to expect now that both Shea and Cameron are on board.
And last but not least, a big story brewing on Wednesday morning is the racist comments involving an AC Milan exec and new striker Mario Balotelli. Ugh.
Get the Kick-Off delivered to you!
Enter your email address and favorite team below to sign up for The Kick-Off mailing list and get it delivered to your inbox every morning.