By Carlos Hernandez, Sports Writer
The U.S Men’s National Soccer Team in the past World Cup Qualifying cycles has added drama towards advancing out of the semifinal round of the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers. Such as in the last cycle where they put their chances in a deep hole in their pursuit of advancing to the next round and although they got the job done, there were not so many good things put on display in regards to how they performed as the visiting side. For starters, the U.S took care of business at home in winning all of their home games, starting with the first round opponent Antigua & Barbuda who were the first opponent of several others that separated the U.S from qualifying to the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. It was an anxious start for the U.S who struggled to dictate possession against their opponent, but it all came down to goals.
Despite a flat performance, the U.S won the match by the score of three goals to one, and by conceding a goal that sparked a concern regarding the U.S defense tactics. Would they be successful to pressure against their opponents in creating giveaways which would lead the U.S to attack in counterattacks, as to not allowing them to step near their side of defense? That was not answered in their first true test in playing in a World Cup Qualifying match in Guatemala. The U.S scored first but had no hunger or motivation to attack Guatemala in their pursuit of getting another goal. The U.S were permissive in allowing Guatemala to gain momentum which came to their benefit, for they got a goal which tied the game one to one which is how the match ended. The U.S defense was not successful in preventing Guatemala from creating chances and that would haunt them again in their next away match in Jamaica. It was a dream start for the U.S, thanks to Clint Dempsey who scored an early goal, but caused the U.S to not generate opportunities in extending their lead or protecting it. The consequences led them to lose the match two goals to one and when they received Jamaica in Crew Stadium, now known as Mapfre Stadium, it was a do or die match up for the U.S. A win would have kept their chances alive in qualifying to the next round where a lost would have eliminated them.
On that match day the U.S attacked and defended very well as they should have done so in their previous games and by doing so they defeated Jamaica one goal to zero. Despite the pressure the U.S got the much needed win and delivered a message to all skeptics that they were still in it to win it. It came down to the last two matches where they were must wins, yet the U.S went back to a conservative style of play where they had control of the ball but did not create danger to their opponent who was the host team, Antigua & Barbuda. The U.S did score first, but the problem occurred afterwards when they were permissive in allowing their opponent in finding the tying goal in which they did. The U.S needed a win, but their style of play did not pay off well until the final minutes of the second half. Eddie Johnson who scored both goals saved the U.S from elimination and from a disappointing performance. The last match was simple but hard to see unfold; win and you’re in, especially since the U.S received Guatemala in the final match day of the semifinal round of World Cup Qualifying. Things did not start in favor for the U.S, all because of the defense not pressuring to prevent Guatemala from holding the ball. Carlos Ruiz easily ran through the defense and Tim Howard for the first goal and the early lead for Guatemala. Luckily it was early in the game when the U.S realized that it was within the power of their hands to get a winning result and qualify to the next round. Despite the early drama, the U.S scored three goals and took the victory where they qualified to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, famously known as the Hexagonal round.
Fast Forward to 2016, not much is different from the U.S, for their first opponent being St. Vincent and the Grenadines were hammered offensively by the U.S by a victory of six goals to one, to open up the first round of the semifinal round of World Cup Qualifying. Their second opponent was against Trinidad & Tobago in an away match, where the U.S delivered a flat performance in the first half, yet improved in the second half but was not successful in converting their chances to the back of the net. The defense then and now have been permissive in giving their opponents the chance of scoring goals and winning results and although it did not occur against Trinidad & Tobago where the U.S could have lost that match, it happened in the recent round. The drama unfolded in round 3 where the U.S played in Guatemala and went down two goals to zero in the first 14 minutes of the first half, and because of not delivering much offense and danger to Guatemala in turning the score around, they lost the match putting their chances to qualify for Russia in a troubling hole. Round 4 was a do or die must win match for the U.S or failure to have done so would have left them out of qualifying for the World Cup. The U.S handled the pressure and knew what they had to do which was to win against Guatemala in Mapfre Stadium in which they did by a score of four goals to zero. A result that puts the U.S back on track in the goal of advancing to the next round where a World Cup ticket is up for grabs. It seems that somethings never change from the U.S Men’s National Soccer Team, for despite putting themselves in do or die must win incidents they tend to respond strongly in positioning themselves to remain being in it to win it. For the final two World Cup Qualifying matches the U.S must go on the road and play against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and days later ending the semifinal round of qualifying at home against Trinidad & Tobago. The U.S is anticipated to not just qualify to the next round or the World Cup, but to qualify through adversity.
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