A suddenly crucial World Cup qualifier against Guatemala will make Mapfre Stadium the focus of American soccer tonight, but another old-guard Major League Soccer venue will play host to a true do-or-die match for the United States later tonight.
The U.S. Under-23s will play the second and final leg of an Olympic qualifying play-in against Colombia in Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, the home of FC Dallas since 2005.
The U.S. tied Colombia 1-1 on Friday in steamy Barranquilla. The winner of the aggregate-goal series will earn a spot in this summer’s Olympics.
“We will have a better game at home,” U.S. Under-23 coach Andi Herzog told U.S. Soccer.com. “ Finishing 1-1 with (a tiebreaking) away goal was huge for us. I saw my team with a great fighting spirit, but at home we have to do a better job in possession.”
Crew SC midfielder Wil Trapp, a Gahanna native, captained the U.S. team in Colombia on Friday. He has worn the armband throughout Olympic qualifying.
Taking heat from all sides following a dismal 2-0 World Cup qualifying loss at Guatemala on Friday, United States team coach Jürgen Klinsmann made two changes to his roster on Sunday.
The changes, though, had more to do with injuries than tactics or personnel preferences.
Christian Pulisic, a 17-year-old midfielder playing for Borussia Dortmund in Germany, and Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi replaced injured Americans Fabian Johnson (groin) and Matt Besler (concussion).
Pulisic and Zusi trained with the rest of the U.S. team on Sunday at Mapfre Stadium. The U.S. will practice there again today after Klinsmann addresses the media.
Tuesday’s game is considered a must-win for the Americans, who sit in third place with four points behind Trinidad and Tobago (seven points) and Guatemala (six points) in their four-team group after three of six games of semifinal-round qualifying.
The top two teams advance to the six-team final round. The top three teams in the final round will earn automatic spots in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Tuesday’s game is “about as close as you can come to all or nothing,” U.S. captain Michael Bradley told reporters on Sunday.
Former MLS star Carlos “El Pescadito” Ruiz, 36, scored for Guatemala on Friday but was not expected to play on Tuesday because of a legal dispute that would have prohibited him from leaving the country. His situation reportedly involved unpaid rent.
But the Guatemalan federation released a statement on Sunday indicating that Ruiz and defender Hamilton Lopez could be cleared to travel by noon on Monday.
Lopez needed “special permission” to enter the United States for reasons that are unclear.
Bradley is the only player on the current roster to have scored a goal for the U.S. in Mapfre Stadium. He scored twice in a 2-0 win over Mexico on Feb. 11, 2009, the third of four “Dos a Cero” victories for the U.S. over its archrival in Columbus. Guatemala has never qualified for the World Cup finals. It has reached the final stage of CONCACAF qualifying four times, most recently in 2006.