United States v Jamaica - World Cup Qualifier

The big preview: United States-Guatemala, a shot at the World Cup on the line


KANSAS CITY – Everyone believed things would be different under manager Jurgen Klinsmann, this talismanic figure, uniquely positioned to elevate U.S. Soccer and bring the U.S. national team forward in a stalled march toward greater global prominence.

Well, it is different –but this is not what most of us had in mind.

For the first time in a dozen years, the United States goes into its final match in semifinal round qualifying with a little nervous edge framing the night. In the run-up to World Cups in 2006 and 2010, passage into the final round of regional qualifying was assured by the semifinal round closer.

Not this year. The United States could pay the ultimate price for a slip tonight against Guatemala in the final match of semifinal round CONCACAF qualifying. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann and his men are heavily favored for tonight’s contest at sold-out Livestrong Sporting Park, one of the top MLS venues and one that promises to be teeming with patriotic support for the 7 p.m. ET kickoff (ESPN2).

Odds are with the United States, which needs only a draw to advance. There is even a possibility that a loss could see them through.

(MORE: the qualifying scenarios)

Most of the U.S difference-makers are here, Landon Donovan as the one exception. Otherwise, Tim Howard has been his usual steady self in goal; Livewire attacker Clint Dempsey has scored in three of five qualifiers in this round; Midfield general Michael Bradley returned to the U.S. lineup in Friday’s win over Antigua & Barbuda after missing the previous two matches due to injury.

The United States has not lost to Guatemala since 1988, with a 12-0-6 mark in that time. Plus, the Yanks are 6-0-5 all-time in World Cup qualifiers against Los Chapines of Guatemala.

The home-team support promises to be strong at Livestrong. The Heartland venue was selected specifically to allow for more precise U.S. Soccer ticket distribution control. Plus, the roof over Livestrong’s seats will help keep the pro-American ruckus reverberating with an impassioned tenor through domestic soccer’s most modern, high-tech ground.

(MORE: Klinsmann and U.S. players love this facility)

Even a slightly weakened U.S. lineup shouldn’t not have trouble creating chances against the tiny, Central American country, which also needs only a tie and will almost surely dig in defensively and look to create free kick opportunities with direct balls into combative striker Carlos Ruiz.

The Americans will miss some width in the attack due to injury absences of Donovan and Brek Shea. Plus, left back Fabian Johnson remains in Germany, ill with a stomach virus.

(MORE: The United States can figure on a physical match)

So, why the worry? Why are some media members so critical of it all, when safe arrival into the next round seems like a money-making bet?

There’s a sense that U.S. Soccer has regressed under Klinsmann, a notion that is debatable but certainly not kooky by any stretch. This small margin for error tonight, for instance, certainly is disconcerting. But people do tend to forget that regional qualifying is rarely easy for the big kids on the CONCACAF block, the United States and Mexico.

The Americans have not looked altogether convincing in this round – but they haven’t looked awful, either. Three of five goals allowed in five matches have come off free kicks, an indication that the defense, while imperfect, hasn’t been bad.

(MORE: Tim Howard says “don’t give up free kicks”)

The attack has been more concerning, with Klinsmann’s team finding just enough goals to put themselves into this favorable position. Even Klinsmann admits the team needs more bottom-line production.

The collective U.S. supporters attitude following Friday’s win in Antigua: “They needed Eddie Johnson to score in the 90th minute to beat … Antigua?”

But were there mitigating factors? Bad fields in Jamaica and Antigua? Clint Dempsey’s transfer window drama, the hold-out that reduced him to something  less than “full Dempsey” for two matches? The injury to Donovan, who has been so important to the U.S. attack for a decade now?

(MORE: Klinsmann assures U.S. will not play for a tie)

How does Dempsey feel about the semifinal round that has turned into an unexpected slog: “It’s so hard to tell,” said Dempsey, a no-nonsense Texan who is not known for riding the excuse caboose. But, he did note the lumpiness of a roster full of players who, like himself, have drifted in and out of form and fitness. And he took note of those poor excuses for fields and defensive tactics built to frustrate the Americans.

“But we’re looking forward to tomorrow,” Dempsey said from Livestrong late Monday afternoon. “Being on a good pitch, no excuses. We ought to be able to take our game to them and take our chances.”

Final round qualifying, which will include better teams – Mexico is in, Costa Rica is close, plus the possibility of improving programs in Canada, Honduras or Panama – would begin early next year.

(MORE: Michael Bradley explains why a commanding win is luxury, not necessity)

(Check back through the afternoon … we’ll have even more on tonight’s match)

Gerard Pique continues to be booed by Spain supporters

BARCELONA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 21:  Gerard Pique of FC Barcelona looks down dejected after missing a chance to score during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Malaga CF at Camp Nou on February 21, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Spain secured qualification to EURO 2016 today with a 4-0 win over Luxembourg, but once again a good performance was overshadowed by the rift between fans and Gerard Pique.

The center-back continues to be booed and whistled by his own fans, despite ongoing calls from the manager, players, and Pique himself to stop the jeers.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

The boos started when Pique, who plays for Barcelona, made some joking comments about Real Madrid while celebrating Barca’s treble winning season last year. Ever since then, Pique has been the subject of boos from Real Madrid fans while playing for the national team.

Before the match against Luxembourg, Spanish legend Xavi called for a stop to the antics, saying supporters should put their club allegiances aside when rooting for the national team. However, they paid no attention to one of Spain’s greatest players, as Pique was whistled at throughout the match.

Following the win, Pique was pleased with the result that booked Spain a place in the final tournament, but was still upset over his treatment by his own fans.

I’d like to resolve this situation with the whistling, of course I do but that depends on the fans. I am going to give all I’ve got to do my job. We’ve reached our objective which was to qualify. I think we’re changing the dynamic; the whistling is louder than the applause but we will improve.

I seem to have explained myself a thousand times on this… no one should be in any doubt about me and my commitment; I’ve been with the national side since I was 16. People can take a look through the archives and see everything I have said in the press since I was a kid. You won’t find anything bad, or comments I’ve made against the national team or this country for people to get upset about.

While the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid is one of the biggest in the world, it shouldn’t carry over into the national side. Pique has made more than 70 appearances for the Spanish team, and started every match at center-back in Spain’s 2010 World Cup run, which was the country’s first major trophy in nearly 50 years. He also played every minute of Spain’s EURO 2012 campaign, which resulted in another title.

[ RELATED: Sergio Aguero suffers torn hamstring playing for Argentina ]

With Spain now into EURO 2016, it’s time for fans to move on and start showing Pique the respect he deserves as one of their most consistent and important players over the past five years.

FIFA presidential election could be postponed

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - MAY 30:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter talks to the press during the FIFA Post Congress Week Press Conference at the Home of FIFA on May 30, 2015 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Alessandro Della Bella/Getty Images)
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For months now, the footballing world has been waiting for February 26, the date on which the FIFA presidential election is scheduled to take place, which will finally put Sepp Blatter out of power.

However, that election may not take place as scheduled, as FIFA has called an emergency meeting amidst the suspensions of some top officials.

[ RELATED: Klopp introduced as Liverpool boss ]

The emergency meeting will be held on October 15, just a few days before the October 26 deadline for candidates to officially declare their intent to run for the presidency.

On Thursday, FIFA announced bans on multiple executives, including Sepp Blatter, Michel Platini and Chung Mong-joon. Platini has been the odds-on favorite to succeed Blatter as FIFA’s leader, while Mong-joon has also announced he will run for president.

Because of the current investigation and suspension revolving around Platini, he would not be allowed to run for the presidency if the election were to take place as scheduled in February. If the election was pushed back, it would give time for the investigation to come to a conclusion, which could possibly absolve Platini of any wrongdoing and allow him to re-enter the race.

Issa Hayatou, who has been the president of the Confederation of African Football since 1988, is currently serving as the acting FIFA president following Blatter’s suspension, and will preside over the meeting next week.