The Road To Rio De Janiero

Qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil are well underway, and Team USA’s performance leaves a bit to be desired under newly acquired head coach J??rgen Klinsmann. As we cruise into Round 3 of the North and Central American qualifiers, Team USA is tied for the lead in Group A and heading into a critical match against co-leader Guatemala. Both Team USA and Team Guatemala have a 3-1-1 record and 8 GF/5 GA.

Last week the American men barely squeaked out a 2-1 win in a less than invigo-rating appearance against tiny Antigua and Barbuda. Thankfully, Eddie Johnson averted near disaster with a late 90th minute goal. Antigua has yet to win a match in the qualifi-ers (0-1-4) and an American loss would have been a tremendous upset. The team left the field knowing there is still work to do and coach Klinsmann assured fans that the team would be at their best for next Tuesday’s tie-breaking bout.

Last month Team USA faced Jamaica in Kingston and were shut out 1-0, marking the first loss to Jamaica in 30 years. In the past month, Guatemala defeated Jamaica with ease and didn’t have nearly as much trouble with Antigua as the Americans.

Mexico remains the only undefeated na-tion, sitting comfortably at 5-0-0. They con-tinue to prove why they were the winners of the Olympic Gold this summer. They will face El Salvador for a second time next week after having defeated them 2-1 earlier this month. Canada and Panama are tied for the lead in Group C, both at 3-1-1. Cuba is sit-ting at the bottom of Group C at 0-0-5 and they remain the only scoreless team of the lot. They face Panama this Tuesday for their last opportunity to put one in the net.

Perhaps the biggest upcoming match is Canada at Honduras. Since Canada has 10 points in the standings, a win or draw at Honduras will send them to the final qualify-ing round, but a loss will send them home. In the past few weeks Canada was able to cruise through Cuba 3-0, but the last time the Ca-nucks faced Honduras neither side managed a goal in a lackluster 0-0 draw in Toronto. The Canadians need to be on top of their road game and avoid a loss at all costs.

Just three matches into the European qualifiers, Russia and the Netherlands have separated themselves from the rest of the pack going 3-0-0 each. Spain and France are also undefeated but have only played two matches apiece.

It may be far too soon to start mak-ing picks, but Spain will surly be expect-ing to defend their 2010 World Cup title. The Netherlands and Germany, finishing second and third respectively in 2010 re-main strong teams looking to leave a mark in Rio. It also seems as though the Neth-erlands will be fighting to defend their reputation as an elite team after a very poor showing at the Euro Cup this sum-mer. The road to Rio is rough and long, but hard work at the qualifying stage is tremendously important.

U.S. soccer fans are ready to put their faith in German born head coach J??rgen Klinsmann, a man whose $2.5 million price tag was by far the most expensive addition to the American roster this year. Kinsmann has a storied professional football career having won both a World Cup and a Euro Cup. He had promised fans that he is hard at work with the American squad on and off the field. He had made special strides in elite recruitment, focusing on American U-23 and U-20 leagues to foster growth.

The United States is a bit behind the world in terms of preparation for the 2014 World Cup, namely due to the men’s failure to qualify for the 2012 Olym-pics. Traditionally the Olympics provide a major competition and training target to keep national teams competing during the four years between World Cups and the US team is struggling a bit more than usual, perhaps due to the downtime.

All in all, the 2014 World Cup in Rio is bound to be exciting. It may be nearly two years away, but every minute counts for any team hoping to leave their mark in the his-tory books. You cannot see yourself on top until you get into the tournament itself first.

Contact John Paslaqua at [email protected].