MIAMI – The US national team will play 10 World Cup qualifiers this year, and they know that every single one counts. But playing three of their first CONCACAF Hexagonal games on the road has greatly amplified the need for a strong start to what could prove to be the States’ toughest Hex experience yet.
“First game of the group, we’ve got to get points,” said goalkeeper and veteran Tim Howard ahead of his team’s curtain-raiser in Honduras on Wednsday (4 pm ET, beIn Sport, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). “We’ve got to pick up points because there’s no easy games and the first one is so important just to kind of get yourself on the board. Because basically, there’s six teams and after this game, there’s going to be a few on zero [points], and that puts you all the way down on the bottom.
“It makes it tough if you don’t get the points; it makes it really, really good if you can pick up a few draws and possibly a win,” said Howard of the scheduling quirk that risks complicating the USA’s path to Brazil 2014. “Because now you’re staring your home games in the face and we know traditionally we have to win those. So it could go both ways.”
The Yanks’ first two road trips, to Honduras and Mexico, might just be their hardest, too, in terms of high-quality opponents boasting substantial home-field advantages. The situation further trims away at what, with limited preparation time for this week’s opening match, was already a slim margin of error for coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his men.
No one in red, white and blue wants to have to make up ground further down the line.
“Every game is going to be difficult,” said Klinsmann. "Every game is a new stop and we have to, obviously, start on the right foot. We want to get points right away in the beginning and make it as positive as possible going through those 10 games."
Asked what he expects – besides a victory – from his squad at Estadio Olímpico on Wednesday, the US boss touched on some of the big-picture concepts of his tenure but quickly returned to the overriding theme that no national team coach can escape at this stage, even one charged with directing a wider revolution as he is.
“We want to see a team that is right there, that is alert, is focused, is ready to give it a real fight and play its own style, play its own way, respecting that it’s going to be difficult,” he said. “We see a team that is growing, improving – and obviously, these games are all about points. You need to get your points in to qualify.”
That inescapable reality had members of the squad stressing some deeply familiar themes about American grit, wits and resilience before they departed US soil on Monday.
“We need to, in the right moments, know how to play and put the game on our terms when we have the ball,” said midfield general Michael Bradley, “and as always in these games, the mentality has to be there, the spirit that says … run and fight and compete for every other guy, that has to be there.”
Added Howard, “It seems like there’s no easy games, but nobody wants to hear that. We’ll plug away, we’ll try and get the result, and it’s big. It’s important we get a result. It’s the first game – vitally important.”