Following this weekend’s league games in MLS, Mexico and Europe, members of the U.S. Men’s National Team will convene for World Cup Qualifying camp Sunday and Monday in Miami.
One thousand miles away, their Guatemalan opponents will have already been together for a week.
After falling at home to Trinidad & Tobago last November and with only three points from their first two World Cup Qualifying matches, the Guatemalan Federation and the professional clubs recognized the make-or-break nature of the home-and-away series against the U.S. and agreed to release players early to allow for more preparation time.
Under the guidance of new head coach Walter Claveri, 18 players from the 23-man roster began training in Guatemala City this past Monday, knowing that more dropped points, especially at home, would likely doom the side’s chances of advancing to the final round of World Cup Qualifying.
“We expect both games to be challenge, starting obviously in Guatemala City which is a very difficult venue,” said MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Their team is already in camp, so they go in a week earlier than we do into preparation for that game, so we expect a very difficult game and a very hot-tempered game.”
Outwardly, the national federation is also working hard to rally support, creating a countdown campaign for the March 25 match at Estadio Mateo Flores, where a capacity crowd of 30,000 is expected.
The U.S. team is also keen to avoid tripping up in Guatemala, and history hasn’t been kind. In five previous World Cup qualifiers, they’ve only won there once – a 1-0 victory at the same stage of World Cup Qualifying on August 20, 2008.
Factor in that the Guatemalan side is playing with renewed confidence under Claveri following wins against Honduras and El Salvador, and the challenge of leaving Guatemala City with three points will be much tougher than it looks.
Still, Klinsmann says the USA’s goal for next Friday’s match and the return fixture on March 29 in Columbus is clear.
“The goal is we would like to beat them in Guatemala City and then beat them as well in Columbus in front of our fans. That will give us six points and will virtually qualify us already for the next round. This is the objective and we will do everything possible to get that done.”