It’s hard for outsiders to understand. How can it be that such a tiny land, so preciously short on resources, can be such a burr in the butt of a giant land like the United States in any athletic competition?
But rest assured, tonight’s contest in Guatemala City, both nations’ second World Cup qualifier in this semifinal round, is one tough-as-Kevlar assignment.
For one, the obvious: it’s 11 against 11. And Guatemala has some talent. (More on that later.)
But it’s mostly about the environment, one that rates a clear 11 on the 1-10 scale of intimidating and hostile surroundings. The Sporting News’ Brian Straus takes a good look at what a match in Guatemala looks like.
Last week in Tampa, several U.S. players and staff told me that these CONCACAF matches in Central America and the Caribbean are not equally laden with hostility and difficulties. None of them look like a day at the spa – but some are decidedly less spa-like than others. Guatemala ranks high on the list of difficult spots.
Says U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard in Straus’ piece: “On paper, it looks so easy.”
And then says for U.S. international Taylor Twellman in the piece: “It’s chaos. There’s no doubt about it.”
U.S. Soccer’s travel staff makes its best effort to establish a safe and restful environment in and around the team hotel. (A U.S. Soccer staffer told me there would most certainly be no morning walk through the neighborhood, a usual game-day practice under Jurgen Klinsmann.)
Still, as the Sporting News story points out, fans get creative:
Twellman referenced 4:00 a.m. wake-up calls, but that’s just the beginning. There may be musicians in the lobby. On a past trip to Guatemala, a radio station staged a late-night “promotion” outside the U.S. hotel, complete with loudspeakers. Several years ago, before a qualifier in Honduras, a local newspaper published a hotel floor plan in order to assist readers wishing to create a disturbance for the Americans.”
Also check out the video I put up earlier this morning, a demonstration of the heavily armed police presence in and around these matches.
Fun stuff, indeed.