By Michael Lewis
KANSAS CITY, Kansas - Both the United States and Guatemala can advance to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with a draw Tuesday night in Kansas City.
Both also could be eliminated with a loss - and that's a line too narrow for some.
"I think a lot of us understand that if we go full throttle and we don't get the win, we may still advance," goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "Obviously, we don't want to take that risk because crazier things have happened."
The United States and Guatemala sit atop Group A with 10 points apiece, three better than Jamaica, which will play winless Antigua simultaneously. If anybody finishes tied, goal difference decides who goes through and who doesn't.
"As much as Antigua doesn't have a lot to play for, you never know what can happen. If we can take care of business, that's the most important thing. We have to guard against complacency because at the moment, knowing that we're in the drivers' seat, but that can change."
It has put both sides on edge.
"We know it will be a difficult game, but we can move forward if we concentrate and not make mistakes," Guatemalan midfielder Jose Manuel Contreras told Guatemalan paper Prensa Libre.
The United States has never lost at home to Guatemala, or anywhere in nearly 25 years.
Yet, the Americans acknowledge the tenacity of the Central Americans, having watched Marco Pappa score with a free kick in the 83rd minute earn a 1-1 draw in Guatemala City in June.
"They're a resilient bunch," Howard said. "They always have [been]. As much as they're talented, they can possess the ball. They're scrappers. And that's not always easy to play against. I think we learned a little bit of a lesson that they'll keep pushing, even though they were down a goal.
"It was early on in the phase. They kept pushing and they got the goal. It's all about guarding against those things, trying to get a lot of possession, if we can, at home, but also make our pressure counts and pays off with goals."
The Americans have won 10 of 11 to the Central Americans in the United States, including five wins in five matches in World Cup qualifying. The lone draw was a scoreless draw in Frisco, Texas, in 2007.
"They have quality there," midfielder-forward Clint Dempsey said. "They're a good team. They've done well during this qualifying round and they're going to be a tough team to play against. We're going to look at the tapes and see what we need to do to be more effective and try to limit their chances. Hopefully we can get the right result."
After securing a 2-1 victory over a tenacious Antigua side on Eddie Johnson's 90th-minute goal on Friday night on a narrow, water-logged cricket ground, the Americans looked forward to playing on a full-length field at Livestrong Sporting Park.
"Everything is there for us to be able to step onto the field on Tuesday night and play a good game," central midfielder Michael Bradley said, adding that the U.S. needs "to impose ourselves on them on the way that we move and the way that we pass and the way we press."
"The conditions here are as close to as they could come. It's a big time American crowd. Everything is in place. . . . Just because the stadium is a little nicer and just because the field is a little bigger and the grass is greener doesn't guarantee you that you will be able to play better. That part is up to us."