“Don’t just stand there, DO something!”
It’s a hoary old line that has moved well beyond “cliché” status and yet, it might be the best way to succinctly sum up the simmering frustrations of US national team fans ahead of Tuesday night's encounter with Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park (7 pm ET, ESPN2/TeleFutura, LIVE chat on MLSsoccer.com).
Feverish excitement about the prospects of the US finally, officially booking their place in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying has been tempered – or perhaps even heightened? – by the nagging sense of underachievement that has floated around Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad from the outset of the road to Brazil 2014.
All odds point to the US qualifying, even if they fail to produce their best on the west side of the Kansas City metropolis on Tuesday. And Klinsmann and his players have often reminded us that the transformational change they seek for their program cannot happen overnight, with the phrase “work in progress” having been repeated over and over again to within an inch of its life.
Remember, from the day he took this job Klinsmann himself has played a huge role in heightening the expectations of casual sports fans and USMNT diehards alike. His cerebral nature, sunny personality and openness to the media have resulted in plenty of big-picture pronouncements which don’t necessarily translate onto the rugged, ruthless plane of CONCACAF combat.
Perhaps we’ve even punished him and his team for their stirring defeats of Italy, Scotland and Mexico on some level, by elevating our own hopes and dreams beyond realistic parameters. It surely doesn’t help that the German coach’s hefty salary is routinely held up against that of his predecessor in nearly every comparison of their results.
But set that all aside and think about the product on the field for a moment. The first five games of qualifying just haven’t passed the smell test.
Possession of the ball hasn’t translated into enough attacking danger. Passing combinations of genuine fluidity and beauty are not increasing in number. Chances have not been created with sufficient frequency, or dispatched in the coldblooded fashion seen among the national teams the US seeks to emulate and overcome.
True, there have been a number of extenuating factors, and as Eddie Johnson (right) emphasized after Friday’s 2-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda, good teams grind out the necessary results first and foremost. But tonight, the stage is set for the USMNT to seize the initiative – after all, a bunkering Guatemala side is expected to hand it to them from the start – and bury their opponents with the pace, movement and attacking dynamism everyone has been waiting to see.
Carlos "Pescadito" Ruiz and the rest of Los Chapines will attempt to kill the clock, clog the midfield, pack their own penalty box and flop theatrically in search of set pieces. And none of it should be enough to stop the attacking talent at Klinsmann’s disposal. Dempsey, Gomez, Bradley, Johnson, Kljestan, Zusi: All have the skill and savvy to solve the puzzle and ride roughshod into the Hex, where far greater challenges await.
It’s time for this team to move past doing just enough to slip past their regional underlings, and start looking like the world-beaters Klinsmann says, and the rest of us believe, they can be.