In Guatemala, attack could be key

Updated: June 12, 2012, 11:53 AM ET
By Luke Cyphers and Doug McIntyre

Forget Friday's ho-hum win over Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa. For Jurgen Klinsmann's Yanks, the 2012 World Cup qualifying campaign really begins Tuesday night against a dangerous opponent in decidedly less friendly Guatemala City.

"You're going into the lion's den when you go into other countries," U.S. star Clint Dempsey said before the Americans jetted to Guatemala. "It's an intimidating atmosphere -- there's a real hate for you there. You're having beer cans thrown at the bus. We know we're going to have a fight on our hands."

But the fight the Americans face at Estadio Mateo Flores pales in comparison to the battle they'll find themselves in should they lose this match.

There's little margin for error in the current six-game, semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying. Last time around, in 2008, a couple of poor results nearly cost fellow regional power Mexico its place in the decisive, 10-match "Hexagonal." (El Tri squeaked into the final round on goal difference.) And if Klinsmann's clan can't pick up at least a point on Tuesday, the next match of the 2014 cycle -- in Jamaica, in September, against the rejuvenated Reggae Boyz, 2-1 winners over the Guatemalans last week -- suddenly becomes critical.

Earning victories on the road is tricky enough without such pressure. The Yanks were fortunate to beat La Bicolor four years ago after getting outplayed for long stretches and being reduced to 10 men in the second half. Now, they'll meet an opponent that's already desperate after dropping its opener.

If the hosts come out flying, as expected, the Yanks must be much better than they were against Antigua to avoid digging themselves an early hole.