Klinsmann publicly hit out at Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey after their moves back to MLS.

Brazil 2014 or bust! Final World Cup push begins for United States national team


Tension will be high Wednesday in Honduras, where the United States soccer team launches its final push toward World Cup 2014, as security concerns and the grave consequence of failure hang heavy over coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his U.S. 24-man assembly.

Should the United States be expected to qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil? Absolutely.

Is it a slam dunk? Absolutely not.

The United States national team, under the direction of its enthusiastic, enigmatic German coach, meets an improving and confident Honduras as the “money round” of qualifying commences. Small though it is, Honduras advanced to its second World Cup finals in 2010 and qualified for the 2012 Olympics (when the United States did not).

Wednesday’s match in San Pedro Sula, the most violent city on the planet according to the U.S. State Department, is the first of 10 final-stage qualifying matches in the CONCACAF region (North and Central America and the Caribbean). Final round qualifying runs through October.

The Hondurans hope to maximize any edge against the more experienced Americans by kicking off at 4 p.m ET, when the heat and humidity could become problematic for the majority of U.S. men who make their living in Europe.

(MORE:  Weather for Wednesday in Honduras: a scorcher)

(MORE: Security concerns in San Pedro Sula)

The United States must finish top three in the six-team group (along with Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama) for automatic passage to Brazil ’14. The group’s fourth-place finisher gets one last chance, a home-and-away series in November against the Oceania winner (probably New Zealand) for the 32-team tournament’s final spot.

Mexico and the United States are favorites to advance, and qualification certainly has become habit here in domestic soccer’s modern era. The country last failed to qualify in 1986, so this would be U.S. Soccer’s seventh consecutive World Cup finals appearance.

While the odds favor a U.S. side blessed with Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey – not headliner “stars” in Europe, but easily in the next tier of talent, highly valued men for solid clubs in esteemed leagues of the Old World – nothing can be taken for granted. The tension here lies solidly in consequence of failure.

Such a thing would be viewed as catastrophe in U.S. Soccer, a crash in the ongoing ascent of the sport domestically.

Not all is perfect in the U.S. cause. Midfield creators are scarce and the back line still has questions as a new generation, led by center back Geoff Cameron and two young German-Americans, transitions in.

Landon Donovan, responsible for single-handedly rescuing a couple of the potentially wayward matches in the 2010 World Cup qualifying cycle, can’t quite untangle his career mid-life crisis. Donovan, 30, remains on extended break and not with the U.S. team in Honduras.

(MORE: Landon Donovan’s career crisis)

Semifinal stage qualifying was bumpier than expected, beginning with a draw in Guatemala and then (egad!) a loss at Jamaica. Eventually, Klinsmann and Co. righted matters by taking good care of business at home and qualifying for the final round atop the group.

A recent 0-0 draw with Canada didn’t help assuage any concerns, never mind that Klinsmann’s “B” team was minus its top talent.

(MORE: Why the points are so important in Wednesday’s match)

Those semifinal road wobbles raised red flags of concern among media and supporters, especially as Klinsmann (pictured above, Tuesday in Honduras along with Michael Bradley) had been recruited – at almost five times the salary of his predecessor, Bob Bradley, whose base was less than $500,000 annually – to move the United States forward, off a plateau.

The United States made it to World Cup 2006 but looked immediately unsound and exited quickly. Only a dramatic, late Donovan goal in 2010 helped the United States slip into the second round. But a subsequent Round-of-16 loss left the bitter, incomplete taste of opportunity lost.

Now it’s on Klinsmann, who guided Germany to a third-place finish in 2006 but is going through his first qualifying campaign as a manager. (Germany was invited automatically in 2006 as hosts.)

(MORE: Wednesday a national soccer holiday in Honduras)

“There is no easy way, not for Mexico, not for the United States, not for anybody,” Klinsmann said via national teleconference Monday just before charter departure into Central America. “You have to get your points, you have to win your games and you have to get the job done. You have to go into every game with the expectation that it’s going to be difficult, that it will challenge you to the limits.

“That’s our approach: take it seriously every time you go out onto the field, very seriously, and be very awake and then we’ll see how it runs out through those 10 [final round] games. I told the players it’s all about alertness, commitment and determination. The way they train, the way they presented themselves already this morning, it looks like they are ready.”

(MORE: How many points will it take to get to Brazil)

(MORE:  U.S. history in Honduras? Successful – but surprisingly brief)

(MORE: Massive opportunity for U.S. defender Timmy Chandler)

(MORE: Jurgen Klinsmann addresses the Benny Feilhaber situation)

Klopp’s Liverpool squad enthusiasm: “Everything is there”

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 09:  Jurgen Klopp is unveiled as the new manager of Liverpool FC during a press conference at Anfield on October 9, 2015 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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It isn’t Dortmund, but that’s a good thing for Liverpool.

Our own Joe Prince-Wright was on the scene for Jurgen Klopp’s unveiling as the latest Reds manager, and the 48-year-old German had a lot to say.

Perhaps most poignant for Liverpool fans are Klopp’s words on the talent he inherits from Brendan Rodgers. Sure there are quips that will hit the headlines, but how about Klopp’s assertion that success shouldn’t take nearly as long as his dramatic work at BVB.

From JPW on Merseyside:

“We did in Dortmund what we had to do, to improve the players, to work for a common idea of play. That is what we did and its the same thing we want to do here. They are not the same players of course,” Klopp told NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk. “These players from Liverpool are better, more experienced in some ways and younger in other cases. Everything is okay, I am here. I am not here only because LFC was calling. I believe in the potential of this team. Four or five strikers you can work with when they are not injured, midfielders is really good, defenders experienced and very young, goalkeeper is really good. Everything is there.”

Everything. A powerful word and one that doesn’t get lost in translation. Liverpool has a batch of world class talent, and Klopp’s is anxious to organize it in world class fashion. Strap in, Anfield.

CONCACAF Cup preview: Ultimate guide to USMNT vs Mexico

Beasley, and other US veterans, have been asked to take the young guys under their wing.
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So here we go: the biggest rivalry in U.S. Soccer, the one that sends fans racing for the stadia for a glimpse of history.

It’s the U.S. and Mexico for the right to go to the 2017 Confederations Cup in Russia, and it will play out at the Rose Bowl on Saturday night.

National pride is on the line, and national jobs may rightly be in jeopardy. Let’s swing through our coverage, and what’s at stake in just over 24 hours time.

The Battles

Who is the key to Saturday’s match? Is it Michael Bradley? Fabian Johnson? Andres Guardado? Will Klinsmann opt for players with Liga MX experience, stay Euro Heavy, or appease the domestic set? Read more here.

The XI

So how will Klinsmann line ’em up? JPW has his preference, some options, and a prediction of what the manager will do.

The history

What are the chances this one finds its way into the upper echelon of matches in the Mexico/U.S. rivalry? This is the company it could join.

Klinsmann’s future

The folks in the anti-Klinsmann brigade seethe with pure detestation of the USMNT boss. Any quote from him is self-serving and dishonest, any success accidental. Beat Germany or the Netherlands in friendlies on the road? Coincidental and Unimportant. Lose a friendly to Brazil? The worst thing ever.

[ MORE: The case for firing Klinsmann after a loss ]

So this match, being meaningful and testing his unbeaten mark vs Mexico, is going to be a clarion call for U.S. Soccer fans. Barring a cataclysmic loss in horrific blowout fashion, he won’t be canned. But a win will be validation for his supporters while a loss would cue a genuine hot seat. And for his detractors, already foaming at the mouth from the words of icon Landon Donovan? Kablammo.