The United States kicks off their third match day of CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers by entering hostile territory. They'll play Guatemala twice in the span of five days on this international break, with the first coming away from home in Guatemala City on Friday.
The USMNT are coming off a very poor year results wise but are the clear favorites to finish atop Group C of the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. Guatemala are by no means a top team, but they have always been the thorn in the sides of the top teams in the region. They still have high hopes of advancing to the final round of World Cup qualifying and will be doing all they can to deny the U.S. three points on Friday night.
W (1-0) - El Salvador - Friendly
W (3-1) - Honduras - Friendly
W (4-0) - St. Vincent & the Grenadines - WCQ
L (1-2) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
D (1-1) - El Salvador - Friendly
W (1-0) - Canada - Friendly
W (3-2) - Iceland - Friendly
D (0-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
W (6-1) - St. Vincent & the Grenadines - WCQ
L (1-0) - Costa Rica - Friendly
Opponent's Player to Watch
Marco Pappa has seen his fair share of off-the-field drama over the past few months, but on the field he's still as crafty as ever. The Colorado Rapids playmaker is still in the prime of his career and is still pulling off amazing things like this last gasp golazo to win a match just a few weeks ago. If you'll recall, in the last World Cup qualifying cycle in this exact round, Pappa scored an 83rd minute free kick in Guatemala to stun the U.S. and steal a valuable point for his team. The 28-year-old isn't a lock to start, but there's a good chance he'll play a big part in both of these qualifiers and could be the Guatemalan's best chance at upsetting the USA.
A goalkeeper controversy-turned-nightmare
Who would've ever thought the USMNT of all countries would be in this situation? For years and years goalkeeper has been a position of strength for the USA. From Tony Meola to Brad Friedel to Kasey Keller to Tim Howard, the lineage of starting goalkeepers has been the backbone of this team for as long as many of us have supported them. Today we sit here in a very uncertain situation between the posts.
Tim Howard's form has abandoned him causing his club playing time to evaporate, while Brad Guzan isn't doing much better either. Two once-proven goalkeepers are now huge question marks. While it's not official, quotes from Jurgen Klinsmann seem to suggest that Guzan is his starter heading into Guatemala. We'll see how long that lasts and if he can put his Aston Villa nightmare behind him to perform in this high pressure situation.
Everyone is hoping that Guzan can leave behind his club form, but there are several USMNT members who will be desperately hoping to bring theirs along with them. Fabian Johnson and Bobby Wood are two players absolutely lighting it up in Germany. Both attacking players are having the best seasons of their career and if they can replicate it with the national team could be huge difference makers.
Wood especially has a big opportunity with the team's #1 out-and-out striker, Jozy Altidore, coming into camp recovering from a hamstring injury. Considering his red-hot form, it's only logical to expect Wood to play a huge part against Guatemala. If he can take advantage of his chances like he has with Union Berlin all season long, it could dramatically improve his standing on the USMNT depth chart.
Brooks the Backbone
Speaking of great club performers, what a season it's been for John Brooks. He and his Hertha Berlin side have had a remarkable campaign. His team are currently occupying a Champions League spot in the Bundesliga table and his consistently solid form has played a significant part. Brooks has always had the natural talent to become a very good defender. This is the season he's finally put it all together at Hertha Berlin to live up to his potential.
Now comes the hard part. Bringing that consistency to the USMNT, a team he's not yet cemented his place in. He's had plenty of big chances for the national team. He's responded with a few shining performances, but for the most part they've been mistake-filled. If he gets the chance to play in Guatemala, it'll amazingly (considering he's scored in an actual World Cup) be his first ever World Cup qualifying experience. This team lacks a true backbone in the center of the defense. Brooks has the characteristics and the talent to become just that. It's time he finally realizes that and takes advantage of the opportunity.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see against Guatemala: