As the European soccer powers kick off Euro 2012 today, the United States Men’s National Soccer team will begin their quest for the World Cup in 2014 as CONCACAF qualifying gets underway tonight. The US will open up against tiny Antigua & Barbuda at 7pm inside Tampa’s Raymond James stadium. The game can be seen on ESPN2 or streamed online at ESPN3.com.
For the US, it will be the first competitive match under new manager Jurgen Klinsmann despite the fact that he took the reigns nearly a year ago. The USMNT will look to bounce back from successive disappointing showings in their previous 2 friendlies. The first was a 4-1 hammering at the hands of Brazil, while the second, and frankly more disappointing result, was a lifeless 0-0 draw against Canada.
Having scored just one in two matches, the USMNT will look to their newest international star Clint Dempsey, who enjoyed a breakout season scoring 23 goals in all competitions for Fulham of the English Premier Leauge, widely seen by many as the most competitive league on the planet.
“I try to better myself every year,” said Dempsey. “That’s something I’ve been able to do and hopefully can continue doing that. I’m enjoying my football, but hopefully I can take it to another level.”
While Dempsey certainly took his play to another level this season, the “other level” he refers to is likely a move to a bigger club than Fulham. Reports suggest that giants like Liverpool or Arsenal could be interested, either of which would delight his national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann.
“If you play consistently at the highest level, then requests will come in,” Klinsmann said. “Offers will come in. I think everybody’s aware of that. His goal is the right goal. Hopefully something will happen over the next couple of weeks and if it doesn’t happen, then he just has to keep pounding away.”
With Europe’s top players all in action in Euro 2012, Dempsey’s best shot at keeping himself in the headlines will be these next two qualifying matches for the USMNT. So look for Dempsey to be super motivated tonight.
Not that Klinsmann plans on letting any of his players get lax. He says that despite the fact that Antigua and Barbuda is ranked all the way down at #100 by FIFA, he wants to see a sense of urgency from his squad.
‘’We have no other choice than to have that sense of urgency in every single game,’’ he said. ‘’We cannot relax for not even one game in World Cup qualifiers. You don’t fool around with that.’’
Not only is obviously very important for the US to qualify for the World Cup, every victory they do record in these qualifying rounds will improve their world ranking and better their chance at getting a favorable draw slot in Brazil.
Having played his entire career in Europe, Klinsmann doesn’t know exactly what to expect in this CONCACAF qualifying.
‘’You never know what to expect beforehand but I’m looking forward to those games in Central America, they’re different from what I experienced in Europe," he said. "But at the end of the day, you want to get to a World Cup. That’s where you really measure yourself. It’s going to be tricky but we have to get the job done.’’
First kick comes shortly after 7pm tonight in Tampa.