Russia 2018: CONCACAF Qualifying – USMNT vs. Guatemala – Preview

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Group C Qualification picks up for the Nats with a home-and-home matchup against Guatemala. OTF’s Joe Maskivish tells us how this CONCACAF clash looks from his view…

The United States enters its upcoming home-and-home matchup against Guatemala with a chance to secure a spot in the next round, with two games to spare. Capturing all six points against their rivals from Central America ensures Jurgen Klinsmann’s side moves onto the Hex and allows Klinsi the chance to dabble in his favorite pastime, roster experimentation.

Prior to any premature ticket punching the task at hand needs to be treated with utmost urgency. The Stars & Stripes must capitalize on the results of the (historically meaningless) January camp and continue their winning ways in 2016.

While the U.S. is riding a 21-game unbeaten streak against Los Chapines, this statistic is somewhat deceiving. The Americans often struggle in Guatemala City (Friday, March 25th 10pm ET; beIN Sport) and they will be facing an opponent desperate for a win to bolster its qualification campaign.

Typical of a Klinsmann camp, this current roster is fraught with injuries, a suspension and some head-scratching decisions. At the top of the roster concerns sits Fabian Johnson, arguably the best American male soccer player in the current pool. Suffering from a groin injury, Johnson made the trip south with the team, but an appearance in game one has been all but ruled out and his status for game two remains in doubt. The task of securing all six points becomes more difficult without the German-American on the field.

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With regards to another of the plethora of German-Americans, Klinsmann will be without one of his favorites in Jermaine Jones. The new signed Rapids midfielder is ineligible due to a suspension stemming from a confrontation with referee Mark Geiger in last season’s MLS playoffs. 

The hole created in the midfield by the absence of Jones makes the decision to leave Danny Williams off the roster curious. By all accounts, the Reading man has performed well enough in the English Championship to earn a call. 

Without Williams, and with a potential pairing of two in-form central defenders in John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez, this particular writer would like to see Geoff Cameron roam the defensive midfielder position. Cameron has been spending time in the same role with Stoke City and he provides a much higher upside than the alternative, Kyle Beckerman. 

Speaking of John Brooks, could there be a chance he and DeAndre Yedlin miss the second leg of this matchup in Columbus (Tuesday, March 29th 7pm ET; ESPN2)? Simultaneous to the senior team’s series against Guatemala, the Under-23 Baby Nats are playing a home-and-home series against Columbia with the winner qualifying for the 2016 Olympic tournament.

Should Andi Herzog’s squad hold the score close down in South America, and with the opportunity to make roster moves between contests, Brooks and Yedlin could head to Frisco, TX on their way north to help secure an Olympic berth.

Of course, first and foremost is World Cup Qualification, and as both Brooks and Yedlin figure to earn starts against Guatemala, if passage to the Hex is in sight, both European-based players could very well stay with the senior squad.

For many American supporters, the question of which man will be standing between the posts is the greatest concern. Unfortunately, the concern arises from the fact that both Brad Guzan and Tim Howard have not been in top form of late. At the very least, Guzan is back to seeing regular minutes at the club level. However, those minutes have been with Premier League cellar-dweller Aston Villa and Guzan hasn’t exactly been leading the charge out of last place. 

Conversely, Tim Howard has been glued to the Everton bench recently and one has to hope the newly announced deal with Colorado Rapids has truly invigorated the 37 year old. Regardless of the decision Klinsmann makes on his starter, the United States goalkeeper position is not one of strength on this current team.

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Can the same be said on the other side of the field? With coach’s favorite Jozy Altidore not fully fit from his preseason injury, the U.S. will look to either play former captain, Clint Dempsey, up top by himself or pair him with the sweltering Bobby Wood. The Hawaiian has been tearing up the 2. Bundesliga to the tune of 14 goals in 25 appearances this season, which has garnered some talk of a move to the first division in Germany. 

We all know Klinsmann loves his German born/German based players, so it would seem likely Wood not only sees the field, but also earns a start or two this International window. Probably rightfully so, as no one on the field in an overpriced Nike jersey will be as in-form as Bobby Wood. 

At the end of the day, a draw or loss in Guatemala City would not be crushing to the qualification hopes. However it would be nice to travel to Columbus with the chance to jump the first CONCACAF hurdle. The U.S. has the talent to get the best of Carlos Ruiz, Marco Pappa and Co., but a dreadful past of away matches in Central America weighs heavy.

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Putting more distance between the present and the atrocious results from last summer’s Gold Cup, the United States will secure the six points needed to advance. It certainly won’t be a simple task, but the number of players in-form for the Red, White and Blue is a refreshing change for once.

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Follow @OTFSoccer for continuing USMNT coverage all the way to Russia 2018.

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OTF’s Joe Maskivish is often found at @joemaskivish

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