The next World Cup is still more than a year away, but survival is already at stake for the United States men's national soccer team.
Not that it's necessarily a bad sign. Just ask their World Cup-winning coach.
With the U.S. preparing for the final two matches of the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying, coach Jurgen Klinsmann spoke to USSoccer.com last week about the difficulties all teams face in World Cup qualifiers.
“In 1990, Germany won the World Cup, but we almost didn’t qualify," Klinsmann said. The year was 1989, and West Germany needed a home win over Wales to qualify for the 1990 World Cup.
Klinsmann and West Germany beat Wales in a tight match and qualified for the World Cup as one of the best runners-up in UEFA qualifying.
The Germans went on to win the World Cup, but it almost didn't happen.
"Two minutes before the end of the game, they missed a 100-percent chance, a header from three yards out," said Klinsmann. "Thankfully they missed or we would never have gone to the World Cup.”
The U.S. also played in that World Cup, losing all three matches in the country's first World Cup appearance since 1950. The Americans have qualified for all five tournaments since then as well.
Klinsmann, who took over as U.S. coach in 2011, has the U.S. in a first-place tie with Jamaica and Guatemala atop CONCACAF's Group A. The two best finishers advance to the final, six-team round of qualifying.
That makes the next two matches vital for the Americans' hopes of qualification. The U.S. visits Antigua and Barbuda on Friday before returning home to host Guatemala next Tuesday. Klinsmann's roster is scheduled to be released later Monday.
(Update: The lineup is out. Forward Jozy Altidore was the highest-profile snub, but Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were included. The full roster is included below.)
The Americans defeated Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 in Tampa, Fla., on June 8 and drew 1-1 away to Guatemala four days later. Klinsmann said the goal of the next two matches is to "take care of business and qualify" from a difficult group.
"It would be an eye-opener for a lot of people in Europe to see our qualifying campaign," he said. "But at the end of the day, we need to qualify, we have to qualify, and we will qualify.
"But you have to prepare yourself in a perfect way.”
Only then can the U.S. get to the business of the final round of qualifying—and, hopefully, another World Cup run.
The full U.S. roster (via USSoccer.com):
Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
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