The United States defeated Jamaica on September 11 to avoid being put on the brink of not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
The victory moved them to the top of the group alongside Guatemala and Jamaica with seven points. The U.S. and Guatemala currently hold the top two positions with a better goal differential than Jamaica.
Jamaica's upset of the U.S. in Kingston in early September forced the U.S. to step up their game. The Americans were supposed to roll through this stage, but now they find themselves having to work hard to advance to the next stage of qualification.
October 12 and 16 will mark the next two qualification matches for the U.S. against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala respectively.
Here are four ways the Americans can get a stranglehold on the opposition and easily top the group.
Physicality will be key for the Untied States.
Entering the matches they should have a decided physical advantage over their opposition. The U.S. have the resources and training to put the best conditioned athletes out on the pitch and it can be the difference between winning and losing.
In the previous meeting with Guatemala in Guatemala City they allowed Marco Papa to score in the 81' to force a draw. Giving up late goals to an inferior team should not happen.
The U.S. should also use their physicality to impose their will. They should make Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda feel their presence through all 90 minutes of action, and should not allow them to feel comfortable.
Physically they have to dictate the matches and force both nations to play their style.
It sounds simple, but anyone who watches the U.S. play knows how frustrating it can be. The Americans make a lot of head-scratching plays.
Turnovers, fouls, and everything in between have led to the U.S. not receiving the desired results.
Look no further than their 2-1 loss to Jamaica. After scoring in under a minute they looked flat, gave the ball away, and fouled close to the box which set up both goal-scoring free kicks. It was hard to watch.
The U.S. has to avoid the simple dumb mistakes that have continually cost them over the years. It sounds easy, but they have proven not to be able to do so to this point.
They will enter both of the October matches as the clear favorites, and they need to play as such. They are the better side. The U.S. cannot allow simple, mindless mistakes to cost them down the stretch.
It is the little things that make the biggest differences.
Another simple and obvious suggestion.
The U.S. has the players in the midfield to keep possession and work their style of offense, which will turn the opposing nations into reactionary opponents on the pitch. Keeping possession will give the U.S. a continued chance to find a way to hit the back of the net.
We have seen better passing under the Klinsmann reign. More, and better, touches are coming off the Americans' feet.
They have to neutralize the opposition by keeping the ball.
Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez have been excellent in 2012 so far. The U.S. should keep the possession under control, which will allow them to exploit the defense and score. Putting Tim Howard on an island helps out the often-worrisome defense.
It may be an obvious suggestion, but it is also a necessary one: just keep the ball.
It does not get any more obvious than to win.
When the U.S. faces Antigua and Barbuda on October 12, Jamaica and Guatemala will also pair off in their qualifying match. A U.S. victory puts them back in firm control of the group.
Antigua and Barbuda are not on the level of the U.S. The Americans won the last match 3-1 in Tampa, and should easily defeat them once again for the full three points.
However, they should not take the match lightly.
The bottom line for the U.S. is to win. Antigua and Barbuda are not on the level of the United States and there is no reason they should do anything but come back to the States with the W. A draw. Anything else would be a colossal failure.
They can regain control of the group by simply beating a team they are much better than. It should not be hard, but the U.S. finds ways to make a simple task more difficult. Here's hoping that does not happen in October.