After a four month break, the United States is back playing competitive games tonight with a road World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Longtime USMNT fans will note that, despite a gulf in resources, population, and talent between the two countries, this has often been a very difficult fixture for the Americans. You don't even have to go that far back: In qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, these two countries were tied for first in Group C going into the final game of the semifinal, and for five minutes of that last game Guatemala had a 1-0 lead on the US in Kansas City. The US eventually won 3-1, and Jamaica's win on the same night saw Guatemala go from having a foot in the Hex to knocked out entirely.
Sadly, this surprisingly difficult game was representative of the meetings between these teams as a whole. Somehow, the USMNT has played Guatemala in six straight World Cup qualifying cycles. The last time these two teams avoided each other in qualifying was due to the US hosting World Cup 1994. Naturally, they also played each other in the qualifying tournament for the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
There aren't any big blowouts in there, either. In the semifinal round of qualifying for 2010, the USMNT won 1-0 in Guatemala City (at the same venue tonight's game will take place in) and 2-0 in Colorado. In the Hexagonal leading up to the 2006 World Cup, the US won 2-0 at home and drew 0-0 at the Estadio Mateo Flores. In the semifinal round back in 2000? 1-1 in Guatemala, 1-0 to the USMNT at RFK Stadium (I was hit with what was thankfully a soda after Brian McBride scored the game's only goal). En route to the France '98, it was more of the same: 2-0 at RFK and 2-2 on neutral territory (Guatemala was barred from hosting games at the time). Even in 1989's qualifying tournament, it was the same: 2-1 in New Britain, CT and 0-0 in Guatemala City.
I can't say I saw all of these games (cut me some slack, I was 7 years old in 1989 and soccer was just slightly less accessible than it is today), but the ones I did see all played out in pretty much exactly the same manner. Guatemala will jam up the midfield and slow play down to a crawl while packing players behind the ball. There will be cheap shots. There will be attempts to trick the referee. Carlos Ruiz will be there. It will be ugly and nasty and garish and shameful.
In other words, USA vs. Guatemala is CONCACAF soccer distilled down into its truest form: A 90 minute street fight where everyone has a total lack of decency and a knife.
Location: Estadio Mateo Flores (Guatemala City, Guatemala)
Kick-off time: 10:00pm Eastern
Available TV: beIN Sports (English), NBC Universo (Spanish)
Available streaming: beIN Sports Connect (English), NBC Deportes En Vivo (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.