Because of that, Jurgen Klinsmann is not taking any chances with his lineup or preparation for Tuesday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago (8 pm ET; FS1, UniMás, UDN).
“The whole situation is very clear, you know. We badly want to win this game. We want to finish first in our group in order to get straight into a big one in the Hexagonal,” Klinsmann said in his pre-match press conference on Monday.
“We’re not through yet and this is what we clearly tell the players. So that even for one second we [don’t] even underestimate the situation. Trinidad and Tobago is through, so congratulations to them. We are fully prepared to go 100 percent, full speed with all the determination and all aggressiveness that it takes to win this game.”
This is the sixth World Cup qualifying campaign since the US hosted the World Cup on home soil 22 years ago. In each previous instance the USMNT have won their semifinal group en route to the Hexagonal.
There have been nervy moments, such as the 3-1 win over Guatemala in Kansas City in October 2012, and the 2006 cycle, where late goals were required to secure results on the road against Jamaica and Guatemala.
“Always the goal, when we go into these qualifiers, is we want to win the group,” said Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman. “Any time we can play a game, the focus is to win. We have a great opportunity to win the group and finish the group on a high note. We are feeling we don’t want to put anything to chance, and get a win.”
If past precedent is any indicator, the people who file into EverBank Field on Tuesday night will be treated to a win. The USMNT are 13-0-2 on home soil in the CONCACAF semifinal round during the last five World Cup cycles, allowing just four goals over that span.
A physical, athletic side, Trinidad & Tobago's determination has been evident on the score sheet. Of the 13 goals the Soca Warriors have scored during this World Cup cycle, 11 have come after halftime.
“We’re aware of it, obviously. We do our homework, we watch their games and we see where their goals are coming from, when they are coming and so on,” Klinsmann said. “The message is clear to our players to be 90 minutes fully focused and zoned in and get the result. We don’t want to allow any of those goals in the second half.”
Regardless of what happens in Jacksonville on Tuesday night, Trinidad & Tobago will advance to the Hexagonal for the first time since the 2010 World Cup cycle, when the Soca Warriors and USMNT were paired together in the semifinal round as they are this time.
American captain Michael Bradley said he always enjoys playing in big games like Tuesday’s contest. Though the Toronto FC man is not sure how the match will differ from the scoreless draw between these teams in Port-of-Spain in November, he is ready for it.
“You enjoy playing when there is a lot on the line,” Bradley said. “For us, that’s always been something we’ve enjoyed as a group, is stepping on the field on important nights and knowing we are representing something bigger than even ourselves. We’re able to make sure the performance reflects that.”