Tuesday marks the end of the semifinal round of qualification for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. With one match remaining, the US sits tied atop its group with Guatemala at 10 points. Jamaica has seven points, and Antigua and Barbuda has just one point. The US and Guatemala will play each other in Kansas City on Tuesday knowing a win or draw will get them into the final round of qualifying, known as the Hexagonal. Jamaica takes on A&B and needs a win and for the US-Guatemala match to end in lopsided fashion so they can win the goal differential (the US and Guatemala are both +3 and Jamaica is even). In other words, the US would have to lose and Jamaica would have to win big for our boys not to advance.
The USMNT has had an up and down qualification journey. Friday night saw long-overlooked striker Eddie Johnson score early on a header off a beautiful feed from Graham Zusi, only to see A&B take advantage of a weak left and left-center defense - starting LB Fabian Johnson missed the match with the flu - to tie things up. Only a second goal from Johnson, which came in the 90th minute, salvaged all three points for the US and made things less nerve wracking going into Tuesday's match with Guatemala.
Watch Johnson's game-winning goal here!
For the negative nancies and/or newer US Soccer fans out there who might be concerned, allow me to take you back to the first World Cup cycle of this millennium. The USMNT struggled in the pre-Hexagonal round of qualifying and barely made it to the Hex. They ended up dominating the Hex and went on to make the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup.
I have faith the USMNT will do something similar this time around. Klinsmann is working hard to instill his style of play and that has been hindered by significant injuries to many of the squad's stars in recent matches (Donovan and Bradley, in particular). If they can get healthy for the Hex, you have to like the USMNT's chances to finish near the top of the group of six. The top three in that group advance to the World Cup, while the fourth place team will play in a playoff to qualify. The Hex should look like this:
Costa Rica or El Salvador
Canada or Honduras
So, fans of US Soccer, let's cheer on the stars and stripes to victory on Tuesday. A win would help the USMNT grasp onto some positive momentum going into the Hex and once again establish themselves as a favorite to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.