Frank Isola: The U.S. national team is lucky to be part of CONCACAF

The Americans are having a tough enough time against small Central American nations, but imagine if they had to go through Europe to get to the World Cup.
It's at this time every four years when you are reminded how lucky we are to be Americans. The land of the free, home of the brave…and most of all a nation precluded from having to go through Europe in order qualify for the World Cup.

Thank you, FIFA.

The European championship underscores the level of talent and depth in Europe. Poland, which didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 2010, has two draws in its opening two matches at Euro 2012. Holland, a perennial power, is on the verge of being eliminated having lost to Denmark and Germany.

Italy tied Spain at Euro 2012 and England drew with France, a country that hasn’t lost a match in two years.

That’s not the say the United States has an easy road to World Cup 2014 in Brazil. But the level of competition, Mexico notwithstanding, affords the Americans a chance to work out the kinks and play through their mistakes.

While the best teams in Europe are slugging it out in Poland and Ukraine, the U.S. national team was fighting with everything it had to earn a point against Guatemala at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City. Clint Dempsey, of course, provided the goal and even though Guatemala equalized in the second half, Jurgen Klinsmann’s side extended its unbeaten streak against tiny Guatemala to 18 games (12-0-6). Take that Guatemala.

The U.S. leads Group A with four points based on a better goal differential than Jamaica, which tied Antigua & Barbuda. Only two teams from the group advance to the final qualifying round and the U.S. will get out of the group. But it will also need to play better. Much better. Last week, the Americans beat Antigua & Barbuda in a match where the visitors drew to within 2-1 in the second half. A few days later, the U.S. gives up a late goal to waste two points.

“I think we saw quite an exciting game,” said Klinsmann, the U.S. coach. “We came for three points but I think at the end of the day, the tie, based on all the chances on both sides, is okay.”

Part of Klinsmann’s job is to put on a happy face every game. He’s all about the power of positive thinking and after the U.S. played five games over 18 days he has reason to be somewhat optimistic but also a little concerned as well. An impressive 5-1 win against Scotland was followed by a 4-1 loss to Brazil and a disappointing draw against Canada in Toronto leading into the two qualifying matches.


Defensively, the U.S. has found a player in German-born left back Fabian Johnson. His strength is as an attacking player and he created several good chances against Brazil. Right back Steve Cherundolo remains the most underrated player on the team. But center back Oguchi Onyewu continues to struggle and his starting position is up for grabs.

Up front, Klinsmann has a striker in Herculez Gomez who he calls “mobile,” which is a nice way of saying he works harder than any other striker on the roster. Gomez was a revelation over the past few weeks. He’s creative, intelligent and he’s relentless. He and Dempsey make for a formidable pairing.

Dempsey remains the best player on the team and they are crossing their fingers that he stays healthy over the next two years.

Luck is always a factor. So is geography. And the United States is very lucky to be qualifying in this part of the world.