FIFA World Cup: USMNT has a history of challenges, pitfalls during World Cup Qualify in Central America

The USA men’s national team traveled to Central America for a Football World Cup qualifier, and the players didn’t just have to contend with the team on the field. There are also many problems and distractions off the field, such as traffic problems, local fans playing loud music outside the team hotel at night, trenches around the field, and trying to dodge flying projectiles and even urine bags and coins thrown at the players.

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In September, the USA will play not one, but two games in Central America. For the first time in 21 years, the USA will play two Football World Cup qualifiers. On Sept. 2, the U.S. will travel to El Salvador to begin a 14-game series. The USA returns to action on Sept. 5 with a match against Canada in Nashville, Tenn. The USA returns to Central America on Sept. 5, visiting Honduras on Sept. 8.

It will be an adventure for both the club and the national team, and perhaps more rewarding for the USA national team than for the club team. You start with a spiritual insight from history, says former USA national defender and current FOX commentator Alexi Lalas, who has played in Central America for both club and national teams.

The essential of the rules of the game

Former USA National Team coach Dave Sarrazin says it’s a challenge in almost every way: lodging, travel, heat, venue, game techniques, and game management. It’s always a challenge as a team to make sure everybody is prepared, and if somewhat can go wrong, it probably will. Mentally, it’s a big hurdle to make sure we’re at the top. You go in with certain expectations, but you have to be flexible. Some things change all the time.

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Sigi Schmid travelled extensively around Central America, first with the Galaxy during their remarkable run to the Concacaf Champions Cup a decade ago, then with the USA Under-20 squad, and finally with the Seattle Sounders in the Concacaf Champions League. It certainly did him good when Sarachan was an assistant coach with Bruce Arena’s national team in July 2000 during the 2002 Football World Cup qualifiers.

Two weekends in a row

When the USA plays Guatemala and Costa Rica two weekends in a row, it’s not the best way to start a tournament, and Sarachan says that with the national team, everything is taken to the highest level imaginable. The opening game was originally slated to take place at Guatemala City’s Mateo Flores National Stadium, but it was eventually shifted to Mazatenango’s Carlos Salazar Stadium, a small hamlet on the Pacific coast some 150 miles from the capital.

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The weather in Masatenango is usually much hotter and humid, so this was a strategic move. The farther we go, the deeper we seem to get into the forest jungle, Sarachan says. So now you’re dealing with heat. The lodging is different, too. To be honest, the food and all that was good. It’s a different environment and you have to be prepared for it. For more details about Football World Cup Tickets.

Contested handball

The U.S. lost this game 2-1 to defenseman Gregg Berhalter, yes that’s right, Gregg Berhalter, the current head coach of the USA, on a handball that was converted into a penalty late in the game that won the game. Jamaica referee Peter Prendergast awarded Behalter a phantom handball in the box with two minutes left in overtime with the score tied at 1-1. Berhalter put his hands behind his back as he defended and headed the ball out of bounds.

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Hernan Medford’s ensuing penalty failed to beat goalkeeper Kasey Keller, and minutes later Costa Rica walked off the field with a controversial 2-1 victory. That was early in my national team career, Berhalter said. It was an eye-opening thing to see. Some decisions go in your favor, some go against you. It was an eye-opener for me because it shows what can happen in this environment.

Just ask former USA international Landon Donovan, who recalls his first Saprissa knowledge at the 2-0 qualifier in 2001. I’ve never been to a game like that, he said, and there was so much passion. The stadium was shaking in the locker room. They used that pressure factor to their benefit, which you don’t see anywhere else in the world, not even at big European games. You don’t see the same kind of environment that you see in those places.

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