WASHINGTON // Jurgen Klinsmann, the US coach, sees his team's struggles to advance from the semi-final round of World Cup 2014 qualifying as a sign of the improvements made by football rivals on the American continent.
The Americans are locked in a fight with Jamaica and Guatemala to decide two spots in next year's Confederation of North and Central American and Caribbean Association Football (Concacaf) final qualifying round for the World Cup in Brazil.
A US Under 23 side failed to escape regional qualifying and missed the London Olympics, serving notice that an extension of America's run of World Cup trips dating back to 1990 is not a certainty.
"What happened to the Olympic team was a huge warning to whoever thinks Concacaf is an easy region to go through. Teams in Concacaf have improved a lot," Klinsmann said.
"I speak with some coaches overseas and they say, 'You will go through with no problem at all'. I tell them, 'No, it's hard. Those teams you play against play with their heart and give their all. You have physical battles. You have to adjust to the environment. It's a difficult qualifying campaign. It's a marathon'."
The Americans are deadlocked with Guatemala at the top of qualifying Group A on seven points, each with six goals scored and four allowed, while the Jamaicans also have the same record (two wins, one draw, one defeat) but rank third on goal difference.
The two top teams in each group advance to next year's final qualifying round.
Today, the US squad visit the winless Antigua and Barbuda, while Jamaica play Guatemala. On Tuesday, the Jamaicans host Antigua and Barbuda, while the Americans will host Guatemala at Kansas City.
"Antigua will fight for every ball. They will give everything. And the same will happen with Guatemala," Klinsmann said. "We have to give everything we have. We have to build in a sense of urgency and be prepared for the challenge."
Unbeaten Mexico have already qualified from Group B, but Klinsmann is not concerned about the US matching the flair their arch-rivals have shown.
"We would love to play very well but first we have got to make sure we score the goals," he said. "You have to find a way to break them down and it's not always possible to look good doing it."
Follow us @SprtNationalUAE