The U.S. picked up three points in their 2014 World Cup qualifying opener against Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night, but the 3-1 victory left something to be desired, along with a few pressing questions heading into what’s guaranteed to be a much tougher match tonight against Guatemala in Guatemala City (10:00 ET, pay-per-view).
Before we get to those questions, here are the field-level highlights from Friday night in Tampa:
Looking at those, you’re reminded that the U.S. did indeed create multiple chances against the packed-in A&B defense, and if they’d put a couple more of them past (surprisingly paunchy) goalkeeper Molvin James, who made eight saves, the postgame assessments would have overlooked some of the Americans’ shortcomings.
As it happened, much of the analysis focused on the team’s inability to put away an inferior opponent, their lack of cohesion, and whether or not Oguchi Onyewu, who was beaten on the Benna Boys’ goal, can still play at the international level (actually, that wasn’t an either-or question; the unanimous opinion was no).
But the three points are in the books, and with a tougher opponent, and a much tougher venue, on tap tonight, here are five things to consider:
1. Who will play left back? With Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson sidelined by injuries, midfielder Jose Torres was handed the job against the Benna Boys, then picked up a knock himself during the game. There are reports that Johnson, who suffered a calf strain, could be back for tonight’s game, but if not, Carlos Bocanegra could fill the role (as he did on Friday following Torres’s injury), or Michael Parkhurst could step in. Our vote? Bocanegra. He’s left-footed, vastly experienced and has played the position throughout his career. And Parkhurst’s lack of speed has been exposed in both of his appearances on the outside during this stretch of games.
2. Should Geoff Cameron start at center back? After Onyewu’s howler on Friday, Klinsmann is likely to sit him down for this one. Will he throw Cameron—who’s never played a WC qualifier before, much less one in hostile Central America—into the deep end alongside probable starter Clarence Goodson? He could go with Parkhurst, who’s more experienced (and better suited to the middle than the wing), or he could go with Bocanegra (if Parkhurst starts out wide). We say give Cameron the shot. He’ll be motivated by the opportunity, his athleticism will come in handy, and he’s very solid on the ball.
3. How will the U.S. respond to the chaotic, hostile environment? The main concern in this department is midfielder—and yellow-card magnet—Jermaine Jones, who will need to keep his game in check to avoid an early yellow, which would change the game for both him and his team. The rest of the players—and Klinsmann, who is new to the unique elements of Central American WC qualifiers—will also have to keep their composure as provocations, home-cooking calls, and quite possibly, foreign objects rain down on them during the game. Add Guatemala’s notorious diver and cheap-shot artist Carlos Ruiz to the mix, and you’ve got a lot of possibilities for getting off track.
4. Has Herculez Gomez topped the depth chart at striker? Before the Antigua and Barbuda game, Klinsmann said he was looking for Gomez to “defend his starting spot.” With a goal and some tireless work up top, he did that, but we can’t shake the impression that Jozy Altidore would be more of a handful for a team like Guatemala.
5. Will the U.S. have their legs back? Klinsmann has been driving the team through two-a-days since camp started back in May, and it started to show in the listless 0-0 draw against Canada on June 3. At the beginning of this stretch, he said he was treating it like a five-game tournament. Game 5 is here, and the team should be peaking. Instead they look leg-weary. Hopefully for U.S. fans, coach gave the boys some downtime this past weekend.