In the next week, the United States Men's National Team will look to avoid one of the biggest disasters in the program's history. They will need to earn four out of a possible six points to make it to the second round of World Cup qualifying; four points in two games to keep alive the hopes of making the tournament that 203 countries worldwide compete for.
Friday night the U.S. will face off against Antigua and Barbuda, the 106th ranked country in the world, in Antigua. The only previous meeting between the two countries ended in a 3-1 U.S. victory on June 8th, 2012 in Tampa.
In that game, the United States was underwhelming despite goals from Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, and Herculez Gomez.
Antigua, a team that features only six players who hone their craft off of the island (none in a first division league), is at the cellar of Group A, having gone 0-3-1 in their first four group games. They are certainly the easier of the two opponents for the U.S., despite it being a road game.
Following the game, the U.S. will fly home to Kansas City where they will meet 81st ranked Honduras for a potential win-or-go-home matchup at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday.
The two countries last met on June 12th in Guatemala and played to a 1-1 draw, with Clint Dempsey scoring the lone goal for the Red, White, and Blue. The draw in what is quite possibly Group A's most hostile atmosphere was a good result for the Americans, although they were a bit unlucky not to leave with a full three points.
USA and Guatemala have met a total of 21 times, with the Americans winning 12, drawing four, and losing just five.
Honduras is tied atop the Group A standings with the United States and Jamaica with seven points. They will close out their schedule with a home game against Jamaica on Tuesday. The top two teams in the Group advance to the second round of CONCACF qualifying.
Typically four points from these two matchups wouldn't be too worrisome, but with the pressure of possibly missing the World Cup, combined with some questionable roster decisions by Jurgen Klinsmann and some key injuries, it won't be a walk in the park for the national team to move on to the next round.
While selecting his roster, Klinsmann shockingly left off Jozy Altidore, the Dutch Eredivise leading scorer. Also left off was twenty-one year old Rapid Vienna forward Terrance Boyd. These two decisions make the Americans very thin up front, leaving Herculez Gomez and Clint Dempsey as the only forwards who have made any type of contribution to the national team in the recent past.
Injuries will play a huge role in the two games. While the Americans do get Michael Bradley back, arguably their most important player, from a thigh injury that kept him out of both Jamaica games, Landon Donovan (knee) will miss his third and fourth consecutive qualifying game.
Also out are starting left back Fabian Johnson (flu), the super talented but highly inconsistent left winger Brek Shea (abdomen), left winger Jose Torres (foot), and left wing/back Edgar Castillo (foot). That leaves the Americans ridiculously thin on the left side, and without their starter at right midfield (Donovan). Luckily, Johnson is expected to be back for Tuesday night's game against Honduras.
With the roster in the shape that it is, I would like to see Klinsmann play to our current strength and depth at central midfield and run a 4-2-3-1. The U.S. needs to play a possession-based game, keeping the opponents touches to a minimum and as far away from goalkeeper Tim Howard as possible.
PREDICTION: The Americans will find a way to sneak in, winning 2-0 at Antigua and following it up with a 2-1 victory over Guatemala.
U.S. ROSTER BY POSITION
GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover), Maurice Edu (Stoke City), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Michael Bradley (Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS (4): Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna), Alan Gordon (San Jose Earthquakes), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)