The Fire are in the middle of a 2 week break, having come off a very rough stretch of games. Any loss that a team and its fans have to stew on for 2 weeks is never fun. Unfortunately there is nothing we can do until June 17th when the Fire get back on the pitch and try to notch a long overdue win against New York. In the meantime, HTIOT readers know that I also cover the USMNT and fortunately there are some very important World Cup Qualifying (WCQ) games coming up starting this week. Given the fact these games have been much more important than the friendlies we have been having, I plan to have gamethreads and write-ups for each WCQ game. After all, bombing out of WCQ means you don't make the World Cup. While that seems like it could be a long shot given our talent and the group we are in, nothing can be taken for granted. Missing out on the Olympics was crushing for any US fan. I can't imagine and don't want to imagine missing a World Cup.
That should help illustrate how important these games are. No matter who we are playing, the games are must win games. Dropping a point or two here or there, especially against inferior teams, can be deadly. And that is one thing the US can and needs to improve on if they look to move up the ladder of elite soccer teams in the world. Too many times we have played at or even below the level of teams we should beat. It's one thing to lose to Brazil, it's another to lose to an inferior CONCACAF team, especially in a WCQ game. We should have close to our "A" team for most of these games. We have also had enough time to start to gel under Jurgen's system, as our recent form has shown (despite the last two matches). Thus we should be able to take care of business pretty easily in group play. Follow me after the system for a little bit more on USMNT WCQ.
The USMNT has been handed a very winnable group. The other 3 teams consist of Guatemala, Antigua & Barbuda, and Jamaica. There isn't any reason that the US should come away from any of these games without the full 3 points. While Guatemala will feature the Fire's very own Marco Pappa, none of these teams should be anywhere near the quality to beat us. That is if we play up to our potential, and that is always a concern for the Americans (at least it has been the last handful of years it seems). One of the next steps for this team to take is to make sure we take care of business when we should. Although upsets can happen at any level in soccer, the best teams don't make a habit out of struggling against inferior teams. If we can beat Italy and keep Brazil on their heels for a good chunk of a half, we shouldn't have issues with Antigua & Barbuda. Unfortunately in sports, beating a team in a game you "should win" is easier said than done. The difference for us know is that we have a system conducive to beautiful soccer once it pans out, and we have a good mix of talented veterans and young exciting players. The pieces are there, now it's just up to the players to make sure we take care of these games and improve for when the road gets tougher.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the US will still have some friendlies sprinkled in between WCQ games. This will be nice because it will give us a nice chance to rest some of the stars and continue to get younger players valuable playing time and experience. This will especially hold true when fall rolls around and the European leagues are starting up again. I expect the starting lineups for the WCQ games to be pretty similar to what we have seen recently, but with more of a dose of Donovan and Dempsey on the pitch at the same time. We saw it briefly vs. Brazil and more against Canada. As 2 of our premier, "Grade A" players, the more playing time they get together the better. And the more dangerous team we will be for it.
The US heads into WCQ in pretty good form. Although the initial handful of games under Jurgen was rocky and lacked goals, the US had reeled off 5 straight wins until recently, including 1-0 decisions over Venezuela, Panama and the historic win over Italy. The US then ran rampant against Scotland in a 5-1 win a couple of weeks ago. The most recent decisions were the 4-1 loss to Brazil and the lackluster draw vs. Canada. I already talked about the silver lining to take away from the Brazil loss. While I definitely think we should have notched a win over Canada, I am not losing sleep over the draw.
The WCQ action kicks off this Friday, June 8th against Antigua & Barbuda at 6 PM CST on ESPN, ESPN3, and Galavision. The US follows up with a showdown against Guatemala on June 12th at 9 PM CST. The kicker on this game is that it is only available on Pay-Per-View, which is odd and has angered many USMNT fans. Here is the link you want to click for viewing info. The match is also listed on US Soccer's website as being available on ustream.tv for what it's worth. The US will then face off against Jamaica on September 11th at 7 PM CST on ESPN2, ESPN3, and Univision. A return game against Guatemala follows that up on October 16th at 6 PM CST on ESPN2, ESPN3, and Univision. Again, the US will have a couple of friendlies sprinkled in this fall as well which Jurgen Klinsmann recently hinted at. Though full details aren't released as of right now, I will have all the details for you once the matches get closer.
It's a pretty exciting time to be a USMNT fan, and we encourage you to join us for our gamethreads to cheer on the USA. The World Cup is only 2 short years away and this teams has a chance to improve and grow by leaps and bounds before then.