The United States is a win away from taking a vital step in World Cup qualifying when it faces Guatemala on Tuesday. However, if past meetings are any indication, it will certainly be a tricky step.
In June, the two countries tied 1-1 in Guatemala. While the United States has historically dominated the series, with 12 wins and six draws in 22 meetings, the Americans know better than to underestimate this Guatemalan team.
Technically, the United States only needs a draw to advance to the fourth round of qualifying, tied atop the group with Guatemala at 10 points. However, that mindset is a dangerous one for the players, who should risk nothing and go for the victory.
Victory should be the result they attain on home soil. Eddie Johnson was a revelation against Antigua and Barbuda, scoring two goals. Clint Dempsey wasn't, but the top American player should be a major factor against Guatemala. Meanwhile, Michael Bradley continues to shine in every facet and Tim Howard is a top-notch keeper.
The talent is there. At least, it's mostly there, with Fabian Johnson (flu), Landon Donovan (knee), Brek Shea (oblique) and Jermaine Jones (suspension) all missing the contest.
Will the execution be there as well? Will the United States actually be the attacking team we thought we were getting with Jurgen Klinsmann, or will they be tentative and toothless in the attacking third?
Of course, a stymied attack might have something to do with the Guatemalans on Tuesday, too. The Guatemalans play tough defense, and knowing they only need a draw, will probably be happy to concede possession and try to ride out a tie or wait to strike on the counter-attack.
However Guatemala approaches the game, the United States need to use this contest as a launching point for the next stage of qualifying, when the task will grow far more difficult. Anything less than a win will be a disappointment, whether the United States advances or not.
I believe the U.S. will grind out a tough, 1-0 win. Guatemala will give them little space in its own defensive third and hope for the tie or win against the run of play, but a motivated (and perhaps humbled, after a tight win over Antigua and Barbuda) United States will do enough to earn a second-half winner.
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