A must-win match for the U.S. at MAPFRE Stadium

USAvGUA USMNT Huddle 3-25-16

All eyes are on the U.S. Men’s National Team tonight as it looks to bounce back against Guatemala in the semifinal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying. The Red, White and Blue dropped their first meeting with Los Chapines 2-0 Friday night in the daunting confines of Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Thing is, the Yanks are now in a must-win situation tonight. Don’t panic; but If the U.S. lose, it’s safe to say they won’t be heading to the World Cup for the first time in 30 years (Paul Carr at ESPN cites only a 10% chance). With that in mind, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann says the theme for tonight is “urgency.”

“We need to win this game and you need to adjust and you need to communicate that positively to your players without getting nervous,” he says. “But I think urgency is the right word to use there and we have to come on the field tonight with a lot of urgency from the first second on.”

Fortunately, the Stars and Stripes and their supporters are in the right place to get a result. The USMNT is undefeated (7-0-3) at MAPFRE Stadium, with a 6-0-2 record in World Cup qualifiers.

“For us, playing in Columbus is special,” Klinsmann says. “Every game here is special to us because there’s such a history for the U.S. national teams to play their games here, especially obviously with Mexico. But any kind of important matchup in a World Cup qualifier is huge, and to be here in Columbus, gives us a good feeling because we know the crowd is behind us. They help us especially when maybe things don’t go your way.”

With a lot on the line, they’ll be counting on the electric atmosphere of the first soccer-specific stadium in the country tonight. Through three matches, the U.S. currently sit in third place with four points. Ahead of them in Group C are first-place Trinidad and Tobago (seven points) and second-place Guatemala (six points).

As Los Chapines have the point advantage and are trying to qualify for their first-ever World Cup, U.S. veteran defender Geoff Cameron envisions their opponent sitting back a bit to concentrate on defense.

“It will be difficult,” he says. “I would imagine they’ll probably sit back and kind of bunker in a little bit and make it very difficult for us to break them down. But in due time, we keep possession, we keep the flow of things, we keep them moving, make it difficult for them to pressure us, we dictate the pace of the game, we’re aggressive, we’re assertive, I think we’ll be fine.”  

But Crew SC midfielder and Guatemalan national team member Rodrigo Saravia says his team has a different agenda.

“We’re not going to hold and stay in the back,” he says. “We want to keep the ball, of course. I think if we keep the ball, we’re going to create chances and hopefully we can score one or two. We want to get the three points out of it or at least one.”

Friday night’s match wasn’t short of chances created by either team with the U.S. putting five of eight on frame and Guatemala firing 10. They only forced Tim Howard to make two saves, but two costly mistakes were converted to two goals in the first 15 minutes for Los Chapines.

Looking ahead to a new opportunity, the Stars and Stripes have room for improvement, including creating more dangerous chances from the wings. With Alejandro Bedoya and DeAndre Yedlin starting in the midfield, they created a few good chances sitting higher and more tucked in—a role in which Crew SC’s Ethan Finlay has displayed success. Although Klinsmann says he won’t be in the starting 11, the hometown favorite could earn his third cap and make his debut in World Cup qualifying tonight. Bedoya is injured and out for the match and Finlay did assist the game-winner against Canada last month.  

“It’d be a real honor,” Finlay says. “You look at some of the guys who have been with Columbus and played in some big World Cup qualifiers with the national team. Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Josh Wolff are guys who are part of our staff now or played for our team. It would mean a lot. It’s a very special place for me personally because it’s my home club. To be able to maybe have another special moment there wearing the Red, White and Blue come Tuesday night would be a great honor.”

The stakes are high and the spotlight’s on the U.S. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. ET and will be televised on ESPN2 and Unimas. 

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