By Alex Baker
LOS ANGELES – The United States has the chance to advance to the next round of World Cup qualification as it heads into a two-legged tie against Guatemala. First up for Jurgen Klinsmann’s men is a difficult trip to the Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City on Friday night.
In its six most recent trips to Guatemala, the U.S. has won once and drawn five times. However, in this case, only a win will put the Americans on course to seal automatic qualification to the final round of qualification, which gets underway in 2017.
To get the job done, Klinsmann has called up a squad that’s an intriguing mixture of youth and experience. Clint Dempsey returns to the side for the first time in nine months. The Seattle Sounders forward has the experience of playing in hostile atmospheres, as well as the grit to be the leader the Americans will need if they are to come away with three points on Friday. It doesn’t hurt that Dempsey is also the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer against Guatemala, with five goals against Los Chapines.
Veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard has also made the trip, having returned from his one-year sojourn from international duty following the 2014 World Cup. Klinsmann will choose between Howard and Aston Villa keeper, Brad Guzan, but has remained coy on which of the two Premier League keepers is his first choice between the sticks.
Other intriguing additions to the squad include in-form Union Berlin striker, Bobby Wood, and Portland Timbers midfielder, Darlington Nagbe.
Christian Pulisic, the teenager from Pennsylvania who broke into the first team at Borussia Dortmund earlier this year, was supposed to make the trip to Guatemala City but had to withdraw due to illness. It’s still possible that Pulisic, who is also eligible to play for Croatia, will appear in Tuesday’s second leg in Columbus, Ohio.
With four points from its first two matches in the round, back in November, the U.S. sits at the top of Group C, ahead of Trinidad and Tobago on goal difference. Guatemala meanwhile, sits third with three points from its first two games.
Photo courtesy of John Dorton.