The United States will face off against Guatemala in a friendly at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego tonight before they begin their 2013 Gold Cup campaign next Tuesday.
For this pre-tournament friendly, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has scheduled arguably the best country in CONCACAF that's not already involved in the Hexagonal or the Gold Cup. The USA tied Guatemala 1-1 back on June 12, 2012 in Guatemala City before beating them in the return leg in Kansas City to end the third round of WCQ last fall, with Guatemala losing out on qualification for the Hex on goal differential with Jamaica.
Klinsmann has also announced that veteran DaMarcus Beasley will captain the United States at the Gold Cup, a very logical choice with only Landon Donovan and Kyle Beckerman as potential candidates on the roster. Klinsmann also stated, and US Soccer confirmed via twitter, that the squad to take the field against Guatemala tonight will be their first team for the Gold Cup. Klinsmann is taking this match seriously, saying it's a "tricky" matchup and that Guatemala will likely have lots of players behind the ball.
While we can take a guess at the players who will be in the lineup, playing your full first team days before the Gold Cup has its risks. But I am all for it in this case. The more games you can give the first team the better prepared they'll be for the knockout stages. Yes, the U.S. could probably put out a squad of backups and win against Guatemala, Belize, or Cuba, but it shows that Klinsmann is going to be aggressive in trying to win the Gold Cup. He knows what a Confederations Cup appearance meant to this team back in 2009 and more games against the world's best are always a good thing.
With the first team line up facing off against Guatemala there aren't many questions to be asked. You'd expect Nick Rimando in goal, Beasley, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu and perhaps former Rev Michael Parkhurst at right back. A Kyle Beckerman, Stuart Holden central midfield pairing would be interesting, as would a Landon Donovan and Herculez Gomez up top as true strikers.
While the USA will be looking at this game as a tune-up for the Gold Cup, one could argue that on paper Guatemala is potentially better than Belize and Cuba, but Guatemala's results of late since being ousted from World Cup contention has been poor. Guatemala hasn't won a match since beating Jamaica 2-1 at home on October 12, 2012.
Guatemala has started 2013 in a rut going winless in all nine matches, including three draws against Nicaragua, Belize and Costa Rica in the group stages of the Copa Centroamericana, Central America's qualifying tournament for the Gold Cup. A loss to Panama in the 5th place game of that tournament means that Guatemala did not qualify for the Gold Cup for the second time in the three tournaments as they failed to qualify in 2009 as well.
With the international retirement of longtime MLS veteran Carlos Ruiz, Guatemala has struggled to score goals under new manager Victor Hugo Monzon. The roster called up to face the USA in San Diego has only a combined 14 goals by 4 players, with Minor Lopez (29 Int'l caps, 6 goals) and Jose Contreras (47 caps, 4 goals) the main threats in the squad. Veteran GK Ricardo Jerez Jr. (34 caps) and defender Carlos Gallardo (42 caps, 3 goals) will lead the defensive effort of a very young team with 12 players not yet a double digit national team appearances and only three over-30 players.
It will certainly be interesting to see the US squad that takes the field tonight. The result might just be telling of how the Stars And Stripes will fair in this year's Gold Cup, or it will be a good opportunity to work out some of the kinks before kicking off next Tuesday. However you cut it, Klinsmann will truly have his work cut out for him.