With a spot in next year’s World Cup in the bag, exactly what does the U.S. national team have to play for in its last two qualifiers?
By PETE GRATHOFF
The Kansas City Star
“Six points,” U.S. defender Matt Besler said emphatically.
Those six points really don’t matter now that the U.S. has achieved its goal of playing in Brazil next year. Friday’s game at Sporting Park pits the first-place team in the CONCACAF hexagonal group (the United States) against the last-place team (Jamaica), which needs a miracle to qualify.
Nevertheless, Besler channeled his inner Herm Edwards.
“Yeah, but we want to qualify first in the group, the hex,” said Besler, the Sporting Kansas City star. “We play to win the game. We’re all very competitive and we’re representing our country. I don’t think anyone would answer that we’re just going to go out and have fun.
“We’re going to try and win.”
That the U.S. team, which practiced Wednesday at Sporting Park, is in the catbird seat is somewhat surprising, given the team started the final round of qualifying in the hexagonal with a 2-1 loss at Honduras on Feb. 6.
There were whispers around the team that coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who was hired in 2011, was in trouble, along with his team.
“This group isn’t on the same page with its coach or each other, and the World Cup campaign might be in peril unless that changes,” wrote one observer after the opening loss. “Sources painted a picture of a coach whose big ideas might not fit a team he could be in danger of losing.”
Instead, the U.S. team has thrived under Klinsmann, starting with a 1-0 win over Costa Rica on a snowy field at Commerce City, Colo., on March 22. That was the start of a 4-0-1 stretch in which the U.S. surged to the top of the standings.
A 3-1 loss at Costa Rica was but a blip, as the U.S. team routed Mexico 2-0 in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 10 and earned a spot in next year’s World Cup.
Those problems with Klinsmann? They’re long forgotten.
“That was more from the outside,” goalkeeper Brad Guzan said. “We’re trying to develop something special with the group of players that we have and the coaching staff that we have and make sure that when we step on the field, we know what we’re trying to do in terms of trying to get a good result and try to make sure that we qualify for the World Cup, which we’ve done.
“Now we need to use these games to hopefully continue that building leading up to next summer.”
Klinsmann said he wants to finish the qualifying round strong and essentially start preparation for Brazil.
“The World Cup is coming up, so these are preparation games,” Besler said. “We’re already preparing for the World Cup and we’re trying to get our form and get our team chemistry, so that’s why we’re taking it so seriously.”
To reach Pete Grathoff, call 816-234-4330 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org om.