Globe-trotting U.S. players ready for Guatemala
GUATEMALA CITY -- Maurice Edu has pretty much gone around the world in six days.
He left Beijing when the United States was eliminated from the Olympic soccer tournament last Wednesday, and flew to Toronto. Then he went to Scotland to sign a contract with Glasgow Rangers before heading to Guatemala for the U.S. national team's World Cup qualifier on Wednesday night.
A jet-lagged Edu was sleeping at hotel room in Guatemala City on Tuesday, then briefly spoke with The Associated Press by telephone.
"I'm trying not to think about the travel. I'm trying to focus on being ready for the game," the midfielder said Tuesday in a phone interview from his hotel room.
Edu will fly back to Scotland following the match for a hearing that he hopes will lead to the finalization of his transfer from Toronto FC to Rangers.
"The contract is signed. Now I am just patiently waiting for my work permit," he said.
After romping over Barbados in a home-and-home, second-round series, the Americans open the semifinals of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with a pair of road games, moving on to Cuba on Sept. 6. The top two nations in each of the three semifinal groups advance to next year's regional finals.
While the United States is ranked 31st in the world, tops in CONCACAF, Guatemala is just 100th in the FIFA rankings.
"It's vital to get off to a good start: ideal world three points but at a minimum you want to get a point out of this game," U.S. forward Landon Donovan said. "In theory, we should beat a team like Guatemala. The reality is is playing in Guatemala becomes very difficult, and they use all the other factors besides soccer and talent on the field to their advantage, so the atmosphere, the crowd, the travel that we go through, the field, the temperatures there, those can all become excuses for us and benefit to them."
Midfielders Michael Bradley and Sacha Kljestan, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan headed back from China along with Edu after the Americans were eliminated by Nigeria in the first round of the Olympic tournament. More than half the players on the 18-man roster came to Central America following weekend games in England, France, Germany and Scotland with their clubs.
Kljestan said the team was tired, but would rally on Wednesday.
"Not much jet lag. I got to spend a couple days in L.A. just relaxing," Kljestan said.
While the United States is 4-0-4 against Guatemala in World Cup qualifying, all the wins have been at home. The Americans are 1-4-4 at Guatemala, winning 1-0 in January 1988 on a goal by Jeff Agoos.
"Having this game so close from our last game, I think it's good because it gets that bitter taste out of our mouths and we can refocus our time and energy to a new cause, and that's obviously World Cup qualifying," Guzan said.
The last qualifying meeting at Guatemala was a 0-0 tie three years ago, when the U.S. sent a depleted roster after clinching its fifth straight World Cup berth.
"Any time you play in Central America, play in these type of countries, it's all going to be hostile," American midfielder DaMarcus Beasley said. "They're just trying to get you out of your game."
Guatemala, which has never made it to the World Cup, is led by several players from Major League Soccer. The group includes Carlos Ruiz, a teammate of Donovan's on the Los Angeles Galaxy. Midfielder Marco Pappa starts for the Chicago Fire.
"A lot these countries, they get up for these games," U.S. forward Brian Ching said. "They definitely play a lot better when they're at home than when they're on the road."
Notes: U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu is the only American player on the roster with a yellow card. Another yellow card would earn him a suspension.