GUATEMALA CITY — On the eve of the most important match yet in his cycle as skipper of the US national team, Jurgen Klinsmann is taking a practical but aggressive approach to away qualifiers.
Much is always made of the degree of difficulty of playing on the road in Central America, but the US coach says that the passion of Central American fans is far from unusual, and something US players should feed off rather than fear.
“The discussion we had is, ‘Yeah, it’s a hostile environment in Central America, but this is just normal,’” the US manager told reporters on Monday. “If you would play in Turkey or in Iran, wherever, I’ve been all over the place.
“It’s hostile in Tehran in front of 110,000, it’s hostile in Istanbul with 60,000 -- actually you can’t even see the field before the game for 10 minutes for all the smoke. It’s normal; this is what soccer brings to the table. I think it’s just awesome. We are here because we want three points, and we have to take it seriously.”
PREVIEW: Guatemala vs. USA
As for the Guatemalans specifically, Klinsmann knows that a street fight awaits the Americans Tuesday night on the field at Estadio Mateo Flores (10 pm ET, pay-per-view, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Guatemala have only a handful of players who ply their trade outside of the local league, but the US will be wary of the creative elements capable of doing sudden damage.
“They will give us a real battle,” Klinsmann said. “They will give us a real fight with everything they have. They have some people that can do some harm, so we have to be very, very aware of those things. We have to be very disciplined in whatever we do, for the amount of work ahead of us for 90 minutes-plus.”
Guatemala are likely to spend much of the match sitting back in the defensive end and countering the US. A favored technique of La Bicolor are long balls aimed at former MLSer Carlos Ruiz, and they’ll test the center backs constantly in hopes Ruiz can get on the end of one at least threat.
“Their approach is based on a lot of long balls out of the back, and go from there,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a very direct way of playing. We need to be aware of it and pick off the second balls. I think we have enough class and enough quality to play our game.”
While Guatemala will undoubtedly try to crowd the American attackers and slow down the game on an already slow field, Klinsmann stressed the need to push the pace and vary the attack in order to break down a robust Guatemalan defense.
“I think keeping the tempo high throughout 90 minutes will show you who has the better players on the field,” he said. “I expect a higher pace, more movement off the ball, and shoot more often.”
Besides his stance on embracing the hostile environment, Klinsmann was careful to walk the tightrope between a healthy respect for Guatemala – a team that has never qualified for a World Cup – and confidence going into a match that could separate the Americans from the pack in their qualifying group.
“There has to be always the right balance between having respect and understanding the strength of an opponent, no matter if it’s Guatemala or Antigua or whoever you play,” Klinsmann said. “But at the end of the day, you’re there to win. At the end of the day, you play the game to your strengths.”