Three thoughts looking ahead to U.S.-Guatemala World Cup qualifier
A road qualifier will be a different beast for the U.S. vs. Guatemala on Tuesday
The Americans will need to figure out Guatemala's five-man back line on defense
Bogged down with injuries as of late, what's the left back plan for the Americans?
My three thoughts heading into the U.S.'s World Cup qualifier at Guatemala on Tuesday (10 p.m. ET, PPV, UStream). Can't see the game? Follow our live blog with Avi Creditor and Co., beginning at 9:45 p.m. ET.
How will the U.S. handle a Central American road qualifier? An unfriendly crowd, ever-present security, bad refereeing calls, an opponent on its heels: The challenges facing the Yanks on the road in Central America are on a different level compared to Friday's home win against Antigua & Barbuda. The U.S. overcame those obstacles in a 1-0 WCQ win in Guatemala City in 2008, but winning again in Estadio Mateo Flores won't be easy, even though the U.S. has gone 17 games against the Chapines without a loss. Guatemala is going through a rough patch, having lost three players from the team in a match-fixing investigation and suffering a 2-1 loss at Jamaica last week. But the home team knows it needs a result, and the atmosphere will be suffocating in coach Jurgen Klinsmann's first qualifier in Central America. "I think I have a sense for [what to expect]," Klinsmann told me recently. "Do I know in detail? No, I don't, but I'm looking forward to it. Whatever happens, you adjust to it and make the best out of it. The players have more experience in an environment like that than I have. They have to figure it out themselves anyway on the field, no matter if I am screaming or if I am quiet on the sideline."
Can the U.S. unlock the Guatemalan defense? The Yanks weren't the juggernaut some were expecting on Friday against Antigua & Barbuda (a 3-1 win), but they did have some nice one-two combinations from Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, the kind of passing that will be essential if the U.S. is to break down what's expected to be a five-man Guatemalan back line. The home team's coach, Éver Almeida, is the Paraguayan who engineered Guatemala's elimination of the U.S. from Under-20 World Cup qualifying, and he relies on defense the way you'd expect from a Paraguayan coach. (Remember how tough it was for the U.S. to attack against Paraguay in last year's friendly loss in Nashville?) I'm expecting Hérculez Gómez will earn another start after a solid game on Friday, but Jozy Altidore could provide some useful muscle off the bench or as a second forward. Guatemala will try to strike on counters and set-pieces, and the U.S. will need to keep an eye on Carlos Ruiz and Marco Pappa, two players familiar to MLS fans.
What's the U.S.'s left back plan? The U.S.'s left back position has been like the drummer for Spinal Tap lately, with Fabian Johnson, Edgar Castillo and José Torres all disappearing with injuries (poof!). Who's next on the left? Michael Parkhurst, come on down! The soon-to-be-Champions League player for Denmark's Nordsjaelland will likely try to do his best Philipp Lahm impression, moving from his usual right back spot to the left, and if he can get forward it would certainly help the U.S. attack. As for Gómez, he's turning into a great story. I wouldn't have predicted that he'd become a first-choice forward for Klinsmann so quickly, but Altidore's late arrival in camp opened a door, and Gómez has run through it. This is a game where I can see him scoring again.
Here's my predicted U.S. lineup: Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Parkhurst; Maurice Edu; Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley; Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey; Hérculez Gómez.