KANSAS CITY, Kan. – On Saturday afternoon, less than 24 hours after the US snatched a vital three points in North Sound, Antigua, Clint Dempsey took to Twitter.
Posting a picture taken from Sir Vivian Richards Stadium that looked like the aftermath at a rainy construction site, the turf gashed and stripped by the elements and heavy foot traffic, Dempsey concluded his tweet with two letters that signified just how jarring the surface was for a player accustomed to the best the sport has to offer: “Ha.”
Field we played on last night for a WCQ. Ha http://instagr.am/p/QvJn_eHb2B/— Clint Dempsey (@Clint_Dempsey) October 13, 2012
On Sunday morning, the US took the field at Livestrong Sporting Park for the first time before Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier against Guatemala (7 pm ET, ESPN2/TeleFutura, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), training on a pristine pitch that shouldn’t hamper either side physically or tactically – or provide any built-in excuses for a disjointed performance.
“You’re more dynamic as a team, you have more options,” Dempsey said. “I think it was difficult in Antigua trying to play on that pitch, link up passes and create space for each other. You’re having to take more touches because the ball is bobbling around and the whole middle of the field was nothing but a mud pit.
“Both teams had to deal with it and figure out a way to grind out a result, and we did. We’re happy with that, but it was definitely a frustrating game and we’re looking forward to playing on a pitch like this and show our quality and how good we really are.”
That quality, at least collectively, is still definitely work in progress, a phrase both Dempsey and Michael Bradley used when asked how head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s quest for proactive soccer has progressed.
But if the Americans have that kind of flowing, attack-minded play in them – still debatable at this point after struggling to consistently create chances through five World Cup qualifiers – Livestrong Sporting Park would seem to be the kind of environment to draw that out.
“Everything is there now for us to step on the field Tuesday night and play a good game, to use our personality and want to play, to want to impose ourselves on them in the way that we move, in the way that we pass, in the way that we press, Bradley said. “Obviously, the conditions here are as close to perfect as they can come.”
Their opponent, a Guatemalan side which is also a draw or win away from the Hexagonal and certainly determined to keep the US from their free-flowing best, will do everything they can to keep the game cagey and chances few and far between.
Striker Herculez Gomez is in the midst of his first World Cup qualifying campaign, but he’s seen the tactics CONCACAF opponents prefer against the heavily favored Americans: clog the defensive third with numbers and wait for a chance to strike via the counter or a set piece.
“You have to deal with it,” Gomez said. “The best teams in the world deal with those kinds of things. We have to find ways to draw these defenders out and create more space for ourselves. Sometimes the elements won’t be in our favor, but that’s just the way it is. We’ve got to do better on a personal level, and we’ve got to do better on a collective level. We expect a lot more out of ourselves.”
So do US fans, in all honesty. Still, as both Gomez and Dempsey said, there’s certainly much more to it than ideal conditions.
The elements for success – pristine playing surface, home-field advantage and a considerable talent gap – may be there, but Hexagonal qualification comes down to one thing: 11 guys taking care of business when it matters most.
“Just because the stadium is a little nicer, the field is a little bigger and the grass is a little greener doesn’t guarantee you that you’re going to be able to play better,” Bradley said. “That part is up to us.”