LIVESTRONG Sporting Park provided a glittering host to an impressive U.S. win over Guatemala, helping the Americans overcome their patchy away form.
In the semifinal round the USA lost to Jamaica in Kingston for the first time ever and drew in Guatemala City. Even Antigua and Barbuda, which had never progressed this far in qualifying, pushed the Yanks to stoppage time in St. John's, Antigua.
"Anytime you lose away from home in a group of four it's always going to be tough," Steve Cherundolo said.
The points dropped away meant the United States had to wait until the last group match to secure a place in the Hex. The top three teams out of six – the United States, Jamaica, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama make up the sextet – book a spot in the World Cup. The fourth competes in a playoff against an Oceania representative.
The U.S. players and staff targeted improving road form to avoid any potentially devastating hiccups.
"We need to be stronger on the road," Herculez Gomez said. "It seems like we're Jekyll and Hyde our road form to our home form. We need to find consistency."
The Stars and Stripes won all three home games with ease. In particular, the wins over Jamaica (in the ever-reliable Columbus) and Guatemala, a 3-1 win in Kansas City, impressed. LIVESTRONG Sporting Park hosted a U.S. match for the first time and a sell-out crowd of nearly 17,000 clearly helped nudge the match in the Americans' favor.
"You need a really good venue to get a good performance," Tim Howard said. "Columbus has done their part and KC should [be] ultra-proud of themselves. It was fantastic. Stadium was rocking, all the flags, the people – the community was great to us. Definitely a place we need to get come back to if this is the way it's going to be."
A particular juxtaposition to the muddy mess of Antigua's cricket field was the pitch in Sporting Kansas City's home ground. Large and luxurious, a quick wet-down minutes before the match helped facilitate crisp and quick play.
"We showed when playing on good pitch we're able to play a good style," Clint Dempsey, who scored two goals, said.
The U.S. roster knows by now not to expect such luxuries on the road in the Hexagonal. But the team might as well savor the perks of home when it can.
"It was quite an experience for all of us, even for the European players that are used to kind of big places," Jurgen Klinsmann said.
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