KANSAS CITY – No U.S. player or staffer could feel fantastic about the nervy way semifinal-round qualifying unfolded, about merging into the final pair of matches with such a small margin for error (even if the extra tension did help create an absolutely stirring atmosphere at Livestrong Sporting Park).
The veteran U.S. players and all the coaches have an understanding that qualifying is never easy-breezy, not even in the lesser of the two money rounds, this just-completed bugger of a semifinal stage. But the slog turned even more difficult than most expected, a semifinal round squeeze that left a few questions deserving of answers.
“We certainly didn’t want to put ourselves in this situation, but we did, and we came up with the right answer,” veteran right back Steve Cherundolo said after last night’s 3-1 win over Guatemala.
But in the end, could it all work to the U.S. advantage? Tougher matches are ahead in the final round, which begins in February.
Here’s what Cherundolo told me about it last night when I asked if two matches that required a result will add some steel, some calm in the twitchy moments surely to come, to this particular group? Said Cherundolo:
Absolutely. It’s great to see how guys perform under pressure. Tonight the pressure was on. Friday, the pressure was on in Antigua. It was a gutsy performance in Antigua. It wasn’t a good performance by any means, soccer-wise. But guys put in the work and that’s the most important thing in these games, making the most of the chances you get.”
As the players and coaches keep reminding us, every group is different in these World Cup qualifying cycles.
Cherundolo has been in these white-knucklers before, so the exercise is not so critical for him. But the weight of the moment is new, and can certainly be instructional to guys like Graham Zusi, Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst, Danny Williams and Herculez Gomez, all starters last night.
In terms of international soccer, nothing they’ve done before this Friday-Tuesday set compares. Nothing close, in fact.