Everything’s going to be just fine.
Those are the soothing words coming from some of the most experienced hands in American soccer as the US national team faces a do-or-die World Cup qualifying match against Guatemala tonight (7 pm ET, ESPN2 and TeleFutura, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). Lose and the USA would likely be eliminated from contention for the 2014 World Cup (see the scenarios here).
Former US coach Bruce Arena, who guided the US to the quarterfinals in 2002 guarantees a victory: “They're going to beat Guatemala, in my opinion, in a good fashion. There will be a two-goal margin."
How about a prediction for the game from US legend and current SiriusXM radio personality Tony Meola? “I do see the US winning the game and scoring a couple of goals,” he said. “I think that at some point, this group of guys is just going to have to start rolling over some of these teams.”
If those words are not enough to start to allay the concerns, just listen to manager Jurgen Klinsmann himself. No smiling. No joking around. It’s all business today. (VIDEO)
However, there’s one person on the US squad who has taken a moment to contemplate the apocalypse: captain Carlos Bocanegra: "If we don't pass this group, we're not going to the World Cup. And it doesn't seem like that would happen to the United States. But whatever. We're in this situation at the moment. Everybody knows this is the real deal now. We can't have any more mess-ups."
The key to victory? Don’t concede free kicks anywhere around the area. Guatemala already took advantage of a set piece in the first group encounter: “I think we need to be aware of giving away set pieces in our final third,” said Clint Dempsey. “That’s something that’s hurt us in qualifying. When we’ve given teams free kicks around the box, they’ve been able to hurt us.”
On the attacking side of the ball we'll let a goalkeeper, Tim Howard, explain what the US has to do: "One thing we need to focus on is taking less touches on the ball [as we] move the ball through midfield and creating numerical advantage,” Howard said. “We don't have one guy who can create a bit of magic. It's about limiting your touches, shifting the other team out of position and exploiting possession in areas they don't want us to be in. It does not happen overnight."
For ex-US player and current Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, it comes down to psychological aspects of the game: “It really is about mentality. I think that that group has it within them but I think that consistency is everything,” he said. “I’ve seen them at times do very well in the attacking side and I’ve seen them at times do very well in defending. But they need to put together that consistent performance.” (AUDIO)
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann admitted that it’s the European-based Americans who sometimes have the toughest times in CONCACAF qualifiers: “The dangers that players playing too long in Europe and coming back to the US and playing these qualifiers think it’s no big deal because it’s not Man. United tomorrow or Inter Milan. It’s Guatemala or Antigua. It’s important people get it in the right perspective.” (VIDEO)
That’s where the MLS guys come in. Brian Straus of the Sporting News points out how MLS players are exerting an ever greater influence on the USMNT. For his part, Klinsmann says he’s simply looking for “our national team players to be leaders in their club teams.”
Maybe everyone, MLSers and Euro-based players, needs to brush up on the history of qualifiers between the USA and Guatemala. Soccer America takes care of that with this compilation of videos, including from the very first qualifier between the two countries. (VIDEO)
Meanwhile, Kansas City is relishing the spotlight for this decisive qualifier, and some believe US vs. Guatemala could be a tryout of sorts for Livestrong Sporting Park potentially hosting the mother of all qualifiers: USA vs. Mexico.
The locals are also eager to root for one of their own. With the absence of LA Galaxy designated player Landon Donovan, Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi is expected to take center stage vs. Guatemala. But he’s very aware about not getting “caught up in the whirlwind.”
Perhaps RSL midfielder Kyle Beckerman summed it up best when talking about Zusi’s emergence with Sporting KC in MLS: “He’s the piano player,” he told The Washington Post. “KC has got a lot of guys who carry the piano. Graham is the guy who plays the music.”
Did you know this about Zusi? The Washington Post also reveals that Zusi’s “ethnic background is a mix of French, Irish, Lebanese and Native American.”
Sporting KC fans who are reveling in the emergence of Zusi will quickly need to come to grips with the departure of midfielder Roger Espinoza, who reports in England say is close to signing with Wigan Athletic. But maybe someone should tell the Daily Mail that he’s not Ecuadorean.
Canadian national team fans will be happy that Espinoza is not there for the critical match vs. Honduras in their Group C finale. Canada need at draw or victory in San Pedro Sula to advance to the Hexagonal (4 pm ET, Sportsnet).
“This is probably the most important game of our lives and our careers. This could change a lot of things for u.s … It’s everything for us,” says FC Dallas midfielder Julian de Guzman. (VIDEO)
There will be an MLS coach in the stands when Canada face Honduras this afternoon. Vancouver’s Carl Robinson is scouting in the Central American country: “We've got friends down there and Carl's got a friend who's well connected, so he's just gone down to see some reserve games and first-team games and a couple of national team games," said Whitecaps manager Martin Rennie.
Back in the USA, MLS Cup playoff fever has already overtaken San Jose, home of the league-leading Earthquakes. The club announced that its first home playoff match is already a sell-out.
Quakes defender Jason Hernandez will be a little lighter in the pocket by the time that match comes around. His was one of a few fines announced by the MLS Disciplinary Committee yesterday.
Staying in the Western Conference, Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake will mark the return of MLS play on Wednesday night (10 pm ET, NBC Sports Network). It was a match that was rescheduled from July to make room for Seattle’s friendly vs. Chelsea FC.
If you’re not counting the Andy Rose trade during the offseason, that makes two nice gestures by Real Salt Lake toward Seattle. Not only did they agree to push the match to October, but they are also allowing Sounders forward Eddie Johnson to hop on a charter belonging to one of RSL’s owners that’s bringing team stalwarts Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando to Seattle. RSL manager Jason Kreis feels “it’s the right thing to do.”
When asked whether he could see this same scenario replicated in other professional sports, Seattle GM Adrian Hanauer gave an honest “probably not.”
On the field, one of RSL’s biggest injury doubts is veteran midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who may not risk it for the match in Seattle: “There’s still some stuff that doesn’t feel great,” he said. “I want to be a part of it for sure, but I also want to be a part of some of the other stuff too, the playoffs. I think we're poised to make another run."
Good news on the injury front for Houston Dynamo fans. Influential midfielder Brad Davis is set to rejoin training today and could be in the lineup to face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, NBC Sports Network).
Landon Donovan may have needed to skip the national team’s World Cup qualifiers due to injury, and we finally know what it’s about. Arena revealed that it’s a bone bruise and that he’ll likely be available as early as Sunday vs. San Jose.
Here’s a blast from the recent past for New York Red Bulls supporters: Former midfielder John Rooney, brother of Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, is set to join Barnsley in England.
There’s a big political debate tonight, but the campaign that’s really making waves is Matt Hedges’ run for Rookie of the Year at FC Dallas. The defender may not have an Axelrod at his campaign “Hedgequarters,” but how many political machines have a Gangnam Style strategy? FCD defender George John elaborates in this video.
Surely, after witnessing that, you’d think the response from Austin Berry’s PR machine at the Chicago Fire won’t be too far away.
But this Rookie of the Year battle is turning to a smear campaign. D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon flipped Berry’s Life cereal PR stunt on its head in this spot: “I eat defenders for breakfast.” (VIDEO)
We’d love to know what Berry’s foreign policy is, especially after news that English side Manchester City went into Chicago and set down roots with a field at Haas Park. (VIDEO)
The Portland Timbers have been planting roots. Literally. They did it by getting their hands dirty with community work during the FIFA break, including transplanting cabbage.
One center back that didn’t get to enjoy any of these Rookie of the Year hijinx is playing in his seventh European country. Oguchi Onyewu is now waiting for his big chance to break through at Spanish side Málaga: "I know I'll get my opportunity and I've spoken to the coach, and it's inevitable for it to happen," Onyewu told ESPN.com. "When it does, it's for me to lose and for me to grab with two hands. And obviously now I have no [basis] to say anything; the team has been playing great."
Speaking of yanks abroad, remember former MLS player Peri Marosevic? He’s apparently signed on with a Croatian club.
Staying in Europe, things just seem to fall into place for Portuguese star captain Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s about to register his 100th cap for his country on the same day he becomes the first athlete to register 50 million Facebook likes.
Ronaldo could have a real lasting legacy if he can avoid snafus like the one that struck the Asian Football Confederation. They used a nickname to describe the United Arab Emirates soccer team that the UAE found to be racist and “evidence of disrespect.”
Finally, this may border on politically incorrect. Swedish women’s soccer team Kristianstads used their athletes to remake the open of Baywatch and that comes after they tried the same thing with Friends. (VIDEO)
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