Event: World Cup Qualifying, Group 1 (Game 2): United States vs. Guatemala
Date/Time: Tuesday, June 12, 2012 – 10:00 p.m. EDT.
Location: Estadio Nacional Mateo Flores (Capacity: 30,000), Guatemala City, Guatemala.
Broadcast Info: Tonight's World Cup Qualifying match between the United States and Guatemala will not be available on broadcast television in the United States due to local broadcast rights not being made available by the rights holder: Traffic Sports. The game is only available in the US via pay-per-view (call your local cable/satellite provider) or online at ustream.tv for a price of $29.95.
Last Meeting: This will be the first meeting between the two CONCACAF nations since the 2008 qualifying cycle that saw the US win both matches via an aggregate score of 3-0. The last of those two matches took place on November 19, 2008 in Colorado. Buoyed by second half goals from Freddy Adu and Kenny Cooper, the US won 2-0 in the final game of their semi-final qualifying group.
Storyline: After a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda last week to open up World Cup Qualifying, the US will look to add another three points to its record when it travels to Guatemala City to take on Guatemala. The general feeling was that the US looked a little sloppy against Antigua & Barbuda and could have looked better in defeating the tiny Caribbean nation. Against a more skilled opponent in a more hostile environment, the US will need to be sharper in order to avoid making mistakes that Guatemala will cash in on (such as Oguichi Onyewu losing track of his mark that led to the only goal for the opposition last week). Will the US be able to conjure up a better effort or will fatigue and a hostile crowd help deal them their first setback.
What To Watch For: This will be the first road test for the Americans under Jurgen Klinsmann, and boy will it be a test. Guatemala is one of the more hostile environments this side of Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and there will be no shortage of anti-USA sentiment in this one. For those that remember the 2008 qualifier in Guatemala City, you'll recall the incredibly physical play that resulted in two red cards, seven yellow cards, and 40 (!!) fouls. With a new style of play, some injuries to deal with, an exceptionally hostile crowd (there were reports of batteries, among other things, being hurled at US players), and the physical nature of the game, it will be interesting to watch how the US handles this trip. Many of the players on the US roster are veterans of these type of road trips into smaller underdeveloped countries, but there are a number who will be dealing with it for the first time in key spots (players like Fabian Johnson, Hercules Gomez, etc.). How they do that will go a long way in determining whether the US gets just its second win in Guatemala City since 1988.
Player To Watch: Whoever the heck has to step in and play the left back spot. The injuries at this position continue to mount and has really eaten into the depth of this roster. Fabian Johnson is listed as questionable as he continues to recover from a strained calf muscle. If he can't go, things get really murky. Edgar Castillo would have been the obvious choice, but he was injured in the lead-up to the Antigua & Barbuda game and has already been ruled out. Castillo's replacement against AB was mid-fielder Jose Torres, but Torres was injured DURING the AB game, leaving Carlos Bocanegra to shift to the left and forcing Klinsmann to turn to the corpse of Oguchi Onyewu to play center back. If Johnson is unable to go, Klinsmann may be forced to turn to the untested Geoff Cameron or the lightly tested Michael Parkhurst to either play left or center back depending on his preference for Bocanegra. In a difficult environment, neither is ideal, but Onyewu has been a disaster lately and can't be trusted.
For Guatemala, all is not well thanks to a match fixing scandal that has rocked the country at the club level and left the national side without three of its best. Without Gustavo Cabrera, Yoni Flores and Guillermo Ramirez on the pitch, the Guatemalans will need to get help from its remaining veterans and some untested young'ns. Maybe most crucial though will be former MLS standout, Carlos Ruiz. The former Galaxy star has 96 caps with the national team and is often used as the lone striker in the 4-5-1 formation favored by the Guatemalans. He'll get his opportunities on the counter attack tonight and how the aging striker is able to finish will go a long way in determining the result.
Prediction: The United States has never lost to Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying, holding a mark of 6-0-4 in 10 matches, and I don't think this will be the night that streak ends. However, the US has shown some flaws and was certainly less sharp than many would have preferred against an underpowered opponent Friday night. It stands to reason, the US will be more on its toes tonight with the understanding that not only is the opponent better, but they badly need a result here after Guatemala lost their opener to Jamaica. I think Guatemala will manage a goal tonight while the US offense struggles to find its rhythm again. Ultimately, the US will scratch out a goal and come away with a point. Final Score: United States 1, Guatemala 1.