A struggling US team is among eight sides scrambling to avoid elimination in today’s last North American semi-final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying matches.
Unbeaten Mexico have already secured one of six available berths for next year’s Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football finals. Winless Cuba, Guyana, and Antigua and Barbuda cannot advance.
A tension-packed last match day sees the US host Guatemala, Canada visit Honduras, Jamaica host Antigua and Barbuda, Mexico entertain El Salvador, Guyana visit Costa Rica and Panama travel to Cuba.
Ten years after reaching the World Cup quarter-finals, and 15 months after German star Jurgen Klinsmann took over as US coach, they must at least draw against 81st-ranked Guatemala in Kansas City or risk being ousted.
Coming off a 2-1 triumph against Antigua in which Eddie Johnson scored the winner in the 90th minute, the US players know they must improve their performance and sense of urgency after having left their advancement hopes to the last minute.
“At the end of the day, you don’t want to be a part of a team that didn’t qualify for a World Cup,” Johnson said. “That was playing through everyone’s mind on the field.”
Johnson joined the squad after all-time US leading scorer Landon Donovan was ruled out with a knee injury and Klinsmann elected not to invite Jozy Altidore, despite his strong start to the Dutch league season with Alkmaar Zaanstreek.
“Do we have to play better? Absolutely. We are not happy with what we saw,” Klinsmann said. “There are a couple of things that we will discuss internally that we need to do much better in Kansas City.”
The key against Guatemala will simply be finding a way to win to ensure a berth in next year’s fight to book a date in Brazil.
“We’ll be the first ones to look at ourselves and say that there are a lot of things that need to be better, but at the end of the day a result is what counts,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We’ve put ourselves in a great spot. All along we’ve said it’s a long road, there are ups and downs. You have to be able to come away with results. You have to be able to win games when you don’t necessarily deserve it.”
Guatemala and the US are deadlocked at the top of qualifying Group A with 10 points, eight goals for and five goals against, with Jamaica third on seven points.
A US-Guatemala draw advances both teams no matter how the Reggae Boyz fare against winless Antigua. A loser would be vulnerable to being overtaken by Jamaica on goal-difference.
In Group B, Costa Rica can join Mexico in the next round with a home victory over already-eliminated Guyana, while El Salvador must upset hosts Mexico to have any chance to advance.
Group C sees Panama on top above Canada on goal-difference, both with 10 points, with Honduras third on eight points after two wins and two draws from five matches.
Honduras must defeat Canada to have any chance of advancing, while a draw would send Canada through. Panama, all but assured of a spot, need only draw at goalless Cuba to secure their place.