The U.S. Men’s National Team, which includes Sounders Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, plays a 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifier against Panama at CenturyLink Field Tuesday that coach Jurgen Klinsmann called huge.
“We badly want three points in this game and next week in Salt Lake — those are home games and they’re must-wins,” Klinsmann said in a Seattle press conference Monday. “It was nice coming back from Jamaica with the three points. Now all that matters is focusing on Panama, which is a really good team — individually, a very gifted team.
“Collectively, they’ve been together a long time. They’ve worked together for the last couple of years, and you can see that. It’s a team that really is in tune with each other. We expect them to be very difficult.”
The 6:30 p.m. PT match is just the second World Cup qualifier played in Seattle and the first since the U.S. defeated Canada 2-0, Oct. 20, 1976, in front of 17,675 at the Kingdome. Seattle previously hosted USMNT for the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2005 and 2009.
FIFA rules dictate grass surfaces, so the Sounders had sod installed atop the Clink’s artificial-turf field in time for Saturday’s MLS match with the Vancouver Whitecaps. The temporary surface quickly chopped up, as noted by Canucks goalie Brad Knighton.
“Not to make excuses, but the field was ridiculously terrible,” he said post-match, won by the Sounders 3-2. “It’s heavy, it’s bumpy, the turf’s coming up, and it’s just a weird surface to play on. Anytime you put grass on top of turf you are going to get something like that. Not to make excuses, but maybe (Caps player Andy O’Brien) doesn’t get injured if we aren’t playing on grass laid on turf.”
But Monday, Klinsmann and team captain Clint Dempsey agreed that the field seemed all right, although the forecast for some showers Tuesday may complicate things.
“I would say the field is good,” Dempsey said. “Obviously, it’s not the first field we’re playing on a grass field over turf. We’ve played quite a few games – especially in the Gold Cup competition – on that type of surface. I’d rather play on real grass over turf than to play on turf. But the ball rolls good.
“We’ll get another chance to (practice) on it today. The only thing is you might notice that it doesn’t bounce as much on the surface, but both teams will be able to play good soccer.”
As for the Sounders contingent, Evans in Jamaica scored in the second minute of second-half stoppage time Friday, giving the U.S. a thrilling 2-1 win that helped solidify the Americans’ chances of making the 32-team field for next year’s World Cup.
With three Jamaicans about five yards from him, Evans spun and beat goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts from about 10 yards. It was the first international goal for Evans, starting at right back because Steve Cherundolo and Timmy Chandler weren’t available.
The U.S. (2-1-1) improved to seven points in the 10-game final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region. After hosting Panama, the Americans take on Honduras June 18 at Sandy, UT. Mario Martinez of the Sounders is a member of the Honduras national team.
In earlier qualifying last October, Johnson scored both goals in a 2-1 U.S. win at Antigua & Barbuda, and four days later added an assist to help beat Guatemala.
“It’s good to know that the U.S.’s road to Brazil (site of the World Cup) has a few Sounder goals littered along the way,” said Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, whose club is idle until June 22, when it will play at Real Salt Lake.
Evans and Johnson could start for the U.S. Tuesday, especially given some recent disruptions to the American squad. Midfielder Graham Zusi received his second yellow card of the round in the Jamaica match and will be suspended against Panama. Fellow midfielder Jermaine Jones suffered a concussion in the second half of that game and won’t be available Tuesday.
Evans says that playing for the national team in front of Seattle fans will be a special experience.
“Obviously I’ve thought about it,” Evans said Saturday after a 10-hour flight from the Caribbean. “Being home, I think it will be extremely special and not many players get to experience something like this. It will always be something I remember. My first cap was here with the Gold Cup, and I will always remember that one.
“And this one, playing in the World Cup qualifier — hopefully, I’ll be playing in that one as well. You try not to get too anxious a couple days before, you think about (Friday’s match) for a couple days maybe, then try to relax and take it easy for a couple days.”
Although the U.S. is on track to qualify for the World Cup, neither Evans nor Johnson are guaranteed spots on the U.S.’s final World Cup roster.
“There’s so much time from now until Brazil,” Evans said. “Obviously everyone wants to play in a World Cup, but there are still a number of players who were supposed to be here that weren’t here for injury, or because they played an extremely long season. In my mind, there are a number of guys that are ahead of me, so I’ll keep plugging away and whatever happens, happens.”
The last appearance of the USMNT here was July 4, 2009 in a 4-0 victory against Grenada in the opener of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The USMNT beat Honduras 4-0 March 2, 2002, at Safeco Field.
Tickets for the match are available through Ticketmaster.com, Ticketmaster by phone (800-745-3000) and the CenturyLink Field Box Office. The seating configuration for the match will be capped at 42,000 fans because of traffic and parking concerns. The Mariners host the Houston Astros at 7:10 p.m.