Looking ahead to next week’s U.S. opponent, Guatemala

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The United States gets to wade slowly into World Cup qualifying, opening against a Caribbean island nation that looks a better spot for producing those soothing Corona beer ads than for producing World Cup-caliber soccer.

Guatemala gets no such luxury as they plow into the qualifying grind.

The Central American nation dives straight into the deep end, playing Friday at Jamaica, which qualified for a World Cup not so far back (in 1998, where the team beat Japan in first-round play but did not advance from the group).

So, Friday’s match at Independence Park in Kingston, Jamaica, is a difficult way to start a 2014 cycle that will be strewn with obstacles the Azul y Blanco.

That’s why next week’s qualifier in Ciudad de Guatemala is sure to be such a test for the United States. Depending on Friday’s result in Kingston, the Guatemalans may already be desperate in their quest, mammoth as it is, to do what similarly-challenged Honduras did in 2006: achieve the World Cup dream.

Here’s a good report on Guatemala’s ongoing effort, and on the country’s strong ties with Major League Soccer, including Chicago Fire bright light Marco Pappa.