U.S. men's national team needs only a tie to advance in World Cup qualifying

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Sports,Craig Stouffer

Still, Klinsmann seeks much improved effort

It's rare the U.S. men's national team needs both to get a positive result and play well at the same time.

That certainly doesn't have to happen when the Americans host Guatemala in the final match of the semifinal round of regional qualification for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but they would welcome it.

Tied atop CONCACAF Group A, the United States (3-1-1, 10 points) and Guatemala (3-1-1, 10 points) need only a tie to hold off Jamaica (2-2-1, seven points) and advance to next year's six-team final round. Both teams could settle for passing the ball back and forth for 90 minutes with little thought of scoring, running or entertaining. A defeat could open the door for missing the next World Cup altogether. It is the second time in five World Cup cycles that the United States has needed the final semifinal round game to qualify.

Up next
Guatemala at U.S.
2014 World Cup qualifying
When » Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where » Livestrong Sporting Park,
Kansas City, Kan.
TV » ESPN2

"We want to win this game," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "You only can win a game if you attack and you go forward. That's what we're going to do. We're not looking here for a tie."

Motivation has been Klinsmann's strong suit. But the United States, which hasn't lost in 21 straight home qualification games, also needs to bounce back after it couldn't have played much uglier in a 2-1 win on a bumpy, wet cricket field at Antigua and Barbuda on Friday. Despite Klinsmann trying to coax a more attractive, attacking style of soccer out of the United States in his 15 months in charge, his side generated almost zero offense aside from Eddie Johnson's two goals.

The story was similar last month in an historic first loss at Jamaica. With their backs against the wall in qualifying, four days later the U.S. team dominated the Jamaicans early in a rematch in Columbus and held on for an encouraging but slim 1-0 victory. But the U.S. offense has nine goals in its last seven games.

"We're still trying to figure out what's going to work best for us," midfielder/forward Clint Dempsey told the Kansas City Star on Sunday. "The most important thing is you put yourself in position to get out of the group and to qualify for the World Cup. That's when you're really going to be able to gauge what kind of style we play."

Klinsmann decided not to call in reinforcements despite losing a host of players to injury (Landon Donovan), illness (Fabian Johnson) and suspension because of yellow card accumulation (Jermaine Jones). But while the United States is short-handed, the setting will be a welcome change.

"Just because the stadium is a little nicer and the field is a little bigger and the grass is a little greener doesn't guarantee that you'll play better," midfielder Michael Bradley told MLSSoccer.com. "That part is up to us."

For now, it won't matter what it looks like as long as the United States gets through. Assuming it does, the scrutiny will get more intense and the margin for error much thinner in the final round of qualifying in 2013.

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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Author:

Craig Stouffer

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner