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U.S. Men's National Team Continues World Cup Qualification

Omar Shamout |
October 15, 2012 | 11:10 a.m. PDT

Senior Sports Reporter

Jozy Altidore, who was controversially left off the current roster, will have a chance to make the team in February. (Jasonwhat/Creative Commons)
Jozy Altidore, who was controversially left off the current roster, will have a chance to make the team in February. (Jasonwhat/Creative Commons)
When Jürgen Klinsmann started his job as head coach of the U.S. Men’s National Team in July 2011, he said he was “looking forward to … starting on the road toward qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.”

If his players come away with a win Tuesday night against Guatemala at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan., then the journey will be halfway complete.

After a last-gasp, 2-1 win on Friday in Antigua and Barbuda courtesy of two Eddie Johnson goals, the U.S. is now tied with Guatemala for first place in CONCACAF Semifinal Group A with 10 points.

Johnson, who scored the winner in the 90th minute, said after Friday’s tough game that the players were excited to head back to the U.S. and play in front of more than 18,000 fans at a sold-out stadium. The striker also has a personal connection to the city where he spent two seasons as a member of Sporting Kansas City.

“It’s going to be a good pitch, a good crowd and we’re looking forward to playing at home,” Johnson told USsoccer.com.

Guatemala comes into the game fresh from a 2-1 victory of its own at home to Jamaica. The loss dropped the “Reggae Boys” to third place in the group, three points off the pace.

Tuesday’s match-up is the final game in Group A. The winner is guaranteed to advance to the final round of qualification as the group champion.

Only the top two teams from each group move on, so a draw would still be enough for both the U.S. and Guatemala to qualify.

Goal differential is the first tiebreaker in the group, so a defeat for either team in Kansas City would still be enough for the loser to advance provided Jamaica doesn’t beat Antigua and Barbuda by more than three goals.

Both the U.S. and Guatemala notched a point in their June 12th encounter in Guatemala City. Clint Dempsey gave the U.S. a first-half lead in the 27th minute, but substitute Marco Pappa equalized for Guatemala in the 83rd minute.

Klinsmann received criticism last week for axing striker Jozy Altidore from the U.S. roster going into these pivotal clashes.

Many wondered why Altidore, who’s currently lighting up the Dutch Eredivisie with eight goals in six matches this season for AZ Alkmaar, was left out in the cold.

The decision was especially controversial considering the U.S.’ lackluster scoring record under Klinsmann. The team has failed to score more than a goal in 15 out of 18 games since the former Germany boss took over for Bob Bradley.

Despite Altidore’s hot start in the league, Klinsmann said he was upset with the 22-year-old’s recent showings for the national team.

“I was not happy about his latest performances with us, maybe even over the last 14 months," Klinsmann said on a media conference call last Monday. “The reason why he is not coming in is mainly about his performances at Jamaica and at home [during World Cup qualifying] … also in training."

But Klinsmann also explained there was also a tactical decision involved in selecting the Seattle Sounders forward over Altidore.

“We wanted to bring in Eddie and Alan [Gordon] because both are really strong in the air,” the coach said. “We expect two difficult games where the opponent will probably play more defensively, so we need to get really strong in the air.”

With both of Johnson’s goals against Antigua and Barbuda coming from headers, and Gordon getting the assist on the 90th-minute winner, Klinsmann has silenced his critics for the time being.

The 28-year-old Johnson’s 10 career World Cup-qualifying goals put him at second on the all-time list, tied with the now-retired Brian McBride. Altidore has six career goals during World Cup qualification, but he didn’t score in the team’s previous four Group A games.

However, Altidore only started one of those matches, a 2-1 road loss to Jamaica in September when he found himself yanked in the 73rd minute in favor of substitute Brek Shea.

Altidore will have to wait until February for another shot to make the team. That’s when the top six CONCACAF semifinalists will fight it out over an eight-month period for one of three spots in Brazil in 2014.

The fourth-place team will have to play a home-and-away playoff against the runner-up from another region in order to advance.

Johnson summed up the importance of World Cup qualification after Friday’s tough game, where a loss or a draw would have put the U.S. in danger of not moving on to the final round.

“At the end of the day, you don’t want to be a part of a team that didn’t qualify for the World Cup,” Johnson said.

Reach Senior Sports Reporter Omar Shamout via email or follow him on Twitter.




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