DAVID SMITH - Friday, March 25, 2016
The US Men's National Team will hit the field in the Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City on Friday evening, looking to take one step closer to booking their ticket to Russia in 2018.
Jürgen Klinsmann's men will try to extend their record unbeaten streak against los Chapines on Friday, as they face their CONCACAF foes in the first of two quickfire games.
Even in the face of what has been regarded as a disastrous run of results during 2015, the United States is nevertheless in prime position to all but assure their place in next year's final round of qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
They are currently atop Group C by way of superior goal differential compared to second-place Trinidad and Tobago, and facing off against an old foe in Guatemala against whom they have not suffered defeat since 1988.
A pair of wins in the two upcoming games would see them through to the hexagonal round, although that would mean bucking the usual trend of earning draws on Guatemalan soil.
The all-time record of the USA in World Cup qualifying against los Chapines stands at seven wins compared to zero losses and five draws, however every one of those draws and only a solitary win have come in Guatemala.
The team comes into Friday night's game with a number of players in fine form for their respective club teams, although it remains to be seen how head coach Jürgen Klinsmann will choose to fit the puzzle pieces together.
FC Union Berlin striker Bobby Wood has been a revelation for the German 2. Bundesliga team as of late, scoring in his previous six games and netting an overall haul of nine goals in his previous eight contests.
This should put him in prime position for a starting position atop the attack, although the experienced Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey, both of whom recently began their respective MLS seasons, will also be gunning for a place on the field.
Major uncertainties in regards to the keeper position will remain unanswered, with Klinsmann having indicated in recent interviews that the currently-benched and MLS-bound Tim Howard and the out-of-form Brad Guzan will each earn a start in the upcoming pair of qualifiers.
Another major concern for Friday's game is the left side of the field. Fulham defender Tim Ream had covered left back in the previous two qualifiers and Fabian Johnson has been known to put in a good shift or two in either left-side position, however neither will be available on Friday; Ream was not selected on the roster and Johnson is current recovering from a minor injury.
As replacements, Klinsmann has shown signs that Edgar Castillo has an edge over Ventura Alvarado and Michael Orozco as left back, while the in-form Alejandro Bedoya or Darlington Nagbe could shift over to the left side of the midfield from their usual club roles.