WASHINGTON, D.C. (Wednesday, October 10, 2012) -- When the United States men defeated Jamaica 1-0 September 11 in a CONCACAF World Cup Semifinal Group A match in Columbus, Ohio, it kept the American hopes of advancing to the quadrennial tournament alive and well. Had the U.S. lost or even played to a draw, its World Cup campaign would have been put into major jeopardy.
The Americans' fate in the six-national final round is not in their own hands. Should the U.S. gain a minimum of a victory and a draw in the final two matches of the semifinal round, it will advance to the final round, where the three of the six finalists advance to the 2014 World Cup and the fourth team enters a two-match playoff for another berth.
The U.S., Guatemala and Jamaica all have 2-1-1 records with seven points. The U.S. travels to Antigua and Barbuda Friday for a 7 p.m. (ET) match that will be televised by beIN SPORTS and hosts Guatemala Tuesday at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kans., a 7 p.m. start that will be televised by ESPN2 and Spanish-language TeleFutura.
The top two finishers from Group A advance to the final round.
Anything less than winning against Antigua and Barbuda would be highly disturbing to the Americans, who will be shorthanded for tomorrow night's match. Most noticeable among the absences is midfielder Landon Donovan, who injured his left knee playing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in Major League Soccer and will miss both upcoming games.
Both natural left defenders have been ruled out for Antigua -- Fabian Johnson, who is suffering from the flu, and Edgar Castillo, who has a foot problem. Midfielder Brek Shea, generally a reserve, will be sidelined with an abdominal strain.
Johnson, it is hoped, will be healthy for the Guatemala match, but coach Jürgen Klinnsmann will not call in any replacements. His options for left back seem to be to move central defender Carlos Bocanegra to the left side, where he has plenty of experience, or to move a midfielder, such as Maurice Edu back.
The U.S. might have been closer to advancement if not for two disappointing road results -- a 1-1 draw in Guatemala and a 2-1 setback in Jamaica, leaving five points on the table. The Americans responded by defeating Jamaica 1-0 in Columbus Ohio in its last outing.
Columbus was instructive as to whom Klinsmann believes is his best 11 who will be his likely starters. In the victory over Jamaica, the kind of quick, short passing possession offense Klinsmann wants was on display.
Tim Howard is a fixture in goal and Steve Cherundolo should be on the right side of defense. If Bocanegra moves left, the central defense will be Clarence Goodson and Geoff Cameron. Otherwise, the experienced Bocanegra will pair with one of them.
In front of the back four will be Danny Williams, playing as a sweeper or as Klinsmann calls him, "a true number six." As with his German club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, his job is to roam from side to side and act as a defensive stopper, to cover for outside defenders who move up field and to act as a link to the attack.
An important sidelight to the last two matches is that the German-American Williams is now locked to the U.S. for the future. The Jamaica match was his first "official" match for the U.S. "He's ours now," Klinsmann said in Columbus with a big smile.
It will be interesting to see whom Klinsmann will use to replace Donovan in the midfield and pair on the flanks with Jermaine Jones. Michael Bradley, who, like Donovan, missed the last two qualifiers with leg injuries, returns to the midfield., but Klinsmann stresses he does not see Bradley as an attacker.
Clint Dempsey will probably be a withdrawn striker behind Herculez Gomez, who apparently is now the top striker with Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd not called for these two matches.