After picking up three desperately needed points against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night, the United States Men’s National Team now moves on to the final game of CONCACAF group play against Guatemala.
The match on Tuesday will be played in Kansas City with a 7 p.m. ET start.
Here are five predictions for the match.
Carlos Ruiz has absolutely been on fire during World Cup qualifying, scoring four goals in the five games of group play. Three of those four goals have been game-winners.
Many American fans and players alike know Ruiz well from his days in Major League Soccer, where Ruiz racked up honors as league MVP, MLS Cup MVP, MLS All-Star MVP and won the Golden Boot award twice.
Over his career in MLS, Ruiz scored 88 goals and proved he can do it when it counts, including 16 goals in 17 playoff appearances. For the Guatemalan national team, Ruiz has 54 goals in 103 appearances.
Since Jurgen Klinsmann was appointed head coach of the USMNT, the U.S. has only kept a clean sheet in five of his 17 games in charge (not counting the January friendlies). Facing a striker of Ruiz’ quality, they will have their hands full.
However, with Carlos Bocanegra back in the middle organizing the defense and playing with pride in front of a home crowd, the U.S. defense will get the job done.
There are still a number of scenarios that can play out for the U.S. to advance to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If the U.S. loses to Guatemala, they can still advance either with a Jamaica loss or tie. If the U.S. loses and Jamaica wins, Jamaica must make up a three-goal differential.
With at least a tie, the U.S. guarantees its advancement to the next round.
However, with the late win against Antigua and Barbuda, most of the pressure is off the U.S.
Playing at home in front of a raucous Kansas City crowd, on a pitch that is not the size of a postage stamp and covered in mud, the U.S. will put in its best and most free-flowing performance of the group stage and beat Guatemala by at least two goals.
Eddie Johnson has had a mercurial relationship with the USMNT over the past decade.
First emerging on the international scene for the U.S. as a pacey 20 year-old striker, Johnson immediately became an important part of the national team setup, racking up 12 goals in 42 appearances over the next four years.
However, Johnson’s rise also led to an unsuccessful move to Europe, which saw him play for four teams over the next three years and fall out of the national-team picture.
Back in MLS this year with the Seattle Sounders, Johnson rehabilitated his career enough to earn a somewhat surprising call-up back to the national team this past week. Johnson made the most of the opportunity with two clutch goals against Antigua and Barbuda including the Minute 91 game-winner.
When strikers are feeling it, they tend to score goals in bunches, and Jurgen Klinsmann will certainly give Johnson another chance on Tuesday.
The U.S. roster has been ravaged by injuries, particularly to its left-footed players. Jose Torres was not called into the camp because of injury. and Brek Shea, who was called in, was almost immediately sent home after the training staff determined he would not recover from an abdominal injury in time to play.
Then on Wednesday, U.S. Soccer announced that Edgar Castillo was being sent home due to a foot injury and that Fabian Johnson would be unavailable for Friday’s match due to the flu.
Anyone who has suffered through the flu knows it is not the type of illness you bounce back from quickly.
While many U.S. fans were hopeful that Johnson would be able to make it back for Tuesday’s match, U.S. Soccer announced via its Twitter feed that he will not be available.
With the center of the defense clearly needing Carlos Bocanegra’s leadership after the Geoff Cameron/Clarence Goodson duo struggled against Antigua, Bocanegra will be moved inside and Parkhurst will get the start on the left.
Kljestan had a solid substitute stint on Friday night and has been in a good run of form for his club Anderlecht. Gomez, on the other hand, had a horrid game (albeit the pitch was certainly a factor), ruining two gilt-edge chances with awful first touches on both opportunities.
Playing in front of the home crowd, Jurgen Klinsmann will adopt a more aggressive 4-3-3, inserting Kljestan into the center of the midfield along with Michael Bradley and Danny Williams, and go with a front line of Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Graham Zusi.
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