SAN DIEGO – The US national team is set to begin the CONCACAF Gold Cup play on July 9 in Portland against Belize. The squad has one chance to get in a dress rehearsal, and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann is taking it seriously. Very seriously.
For Klinsmann, Friday night's friendly against Guatemala here at Qualcomm Stadium (11 pm ET, NBC Sports Network, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) is the perfect tune-up given the way the Guatemalans play.
“They will make it very tight, they will have all the numbers behind the ball, and we have to find ways to break them down,” he said during Thursday's customary prematch press conference. “I think they can give us a good test for what we can expect in the Gold Cup. That’s the reason why we asked them to play the friendly. It’s going to be tricky.”
Guatemala did not qualify for this year's tournament, due in large part to a 0-0 draw with Belize in the group stage of the 2013 Copa Centroamericana, which doubles as Gold Cup qualifying. That disappointment could prove motivational against the US.
“They have a new group of players as well, that are getting introduced to the senior group," he said. "They have a change in leadership there, and they have basically nothing to lose coming here. They will give it everything they have, and therefore for us it’s a challenge.”
The coach also stressed that the Americans’ first opponent at the Gold Cup, Belize, are no pushovers, despite their lack of familiarity on an international stage.
“If you look at Belize, you know that Belize is not the big name that you want to hear, you would rather hear Brazil or Argentina,” Klinsmann explained. “But Belize, the way they played in qualification, we watched all their games, will give us a lot of issues as well.
“They had remarkable results against Honduras, against Guatemala, against nations that we normally face, and that’s why they’re in the tournament. That’s what we want to prepare for, and we’ll start that tomorrow.”
The US will not have to deal with any injuries, Klinsmann said, but that didn't keep him from slamming the roster rules for the tournament. CONCACAF mandates that participating countries in the Gold Cup submit preliminary rosters 45 days before the tournament, which Klinsmann says doesn't take into account the many potential uncertainties, particularly the health and form of players.
“I thought it was not a good idea, and I told CONCACAF, because you can’t predict injuries, you can’t predict lack of form and all these elements," Klinsmann said. "What [can happen] in 45 days?”