A struggling United States team is among eight sides scrambling to avoid elimination in Tuesday’s last North American semi-final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying matches.
Unbeaten Mexico has already secured one of six available berths for the 2013 Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) finals. Winless Cuba, Guyana and Antigua and Barbuda cannot advance.
A tension-packed last matchday will see 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, the Americans must at least draw 81st-ranked Guatemala at Kansas City or risk being ousted.
Coming off a 2-1 triumph at Antigua in which Eddie Johnson scored the winner in the 90th minute, 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 scoring leader 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 AZ Alkmaar.
“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,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said. “But at the end of the day a result is what counts.
”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 atop qualifying Group A at 3-1-1 for 10 points with eight goals for each and five goals against each with Jamaica third on seven points with five goals scored and as many against.
A US-Guatemala draw advances both teams no matter how the “Reggae Boyz“ fare against winless Antigua. A US-Guatemala loser would be vulnerable to being overtaken by Jamaica on goal difference.
In Group B, Costa Rica can join Mexico in advancing with a home victory over already-eliminated Guyana while El Salvador must upset the host Mexicans to have any chance to advance.
Group C has Panama atop Canada on goal difference, both at 3-1-1 for 10 points with Honduras third on eight points after two wins and two draws from five matches.
Honduras must defeat the visiting Canadians to have any chance of advancing while a draw would send Canada through. Panama, all-but assured of a spot, need only draw at goal-less Cuba to secure advancement.