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Oct 15, 2012

U.S. gameplan vs. Guatemala: Play to win

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Jurgen Klinsmann promised to bring an attacking style to the U.S. national team when the former Germany striker took the reins of the program more than a year ago.

His approach won't change even when a tie would suit the Americans just fine.

The U.S. merely needs to draw with Guatemala on Tuesday night for both teams to advance from Group A in the semifinals of World Cup qualifying, while a result one way or the other would give Jamaica an outside chance of squeaking through to the final round.

Don't expect either team to bunker down, though.

Especially the Americans.

"Our approach to the game is clear. We want to win this game. You can only win a game if you attack and go forward, and that's what we're going to do," Klinsmann said before a final training session at Livestrong Sporting Park on Monday. "We're not going to look for a tie."

Even though that might be the prudent move.

The U.S. set up the enviable situation with a ragged 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday, a game that was played on a tiny cricket pitch-turned-quagmire.

The performance wasn't a thing of beauty, either. The Americans struggled through the wind and were hampered by the tight quarters of the field, and needed a pair of goals from Eddie Johnson to beat the last-place team in its group. Johnson's header in the 90th minute secured the victory.

"We're honest enough with ourselves to look at things and say, `This needs to be better," midfielder Michael Bradley said. "I can assure you the mentality, the spirit within the group is really good. A quality of a big team is to come away with points, to come away with wins, on days when you don't play your best, when conditions aren't perfect. We take great pride in that."

The fact that Johnson played the role of hero Friday night was a testament to Klinsmann's approach to building the U.S. team. He sat popular forward Jozy Altidore while making the move, even though Johnson had not played for the national team since May 2010.

Johnson's last goal had come in an 8-0 romp against Barbados in 2008.

"We always have an open-door policy where something can open and we'll see where it leads. Eddie Johnson is part of that," Klinsmann said. "He got his chance and he took his chance."

Johnson's slide from promising young superstar to overlooked has-been can be traced to his ultimately unsuccessful move to Europe. Now that he's back in Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders, Johnson has slowly managed to regain the confidence that had been lost.

"When you're in and out of teams, you don't play to your strength," he said. "I just think hard work pays off. I've been putting in the hard work and this is all a bonus."

Johnson's big night in St. John's, Antigua, certainly came at an opportune time. The roster at Klinsmann's disposal keeps shrinking due to injuries and suspensions.

Midfielder Jermaine Jones returned to his German club during the weekend after receiving a yellow card Friday night that meant he would be suspended for the game against Guatemala.

Landon Donovan has been out with a knee injury, Brek Shea with an abdominal strain and Edgar Castillo with a foot injury, while Fabian Johnson did not make the trip to Kansas City because of flu so severe that he was briefly hospitalized with concerns it might be salmonella-related.

That means Klinsmann has just 16 field players available for Tuesday night's game.

"We think this group being together more than a week gives us enough options to deal with those problems that came up," Klinsmann said, when asked whether he considered bringing in help.

"We feel we're strong enough to deal with Guatemala with the players that are here."

Dealing with Guatemala means dealing with Carlos Ruiz. The longtime MLS star has scored four goals in five World Cup qualifiers, and three of them have decided games.

The semifinal round of qualifying consists of three groups of four teams each, with the top two teams advancing to a six-team final round that will be played next year. The top three teams from that pool automatically qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, while the fourth-place team would play a two-game playoff against the champion of the Oceania region to advance.

The U.S. and Guatemala are both 3-1-1 and sitting on 10 points. Jamaica is three points adrift with a 2-2-1 mark, while Antigua and Barbuda has only managed a tie through five games.

"It shouldn't be joy and elation," U.S goalkeeper Tim Howard said of the mood surrounding the team. "We should be getting through this round."

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