Yes, the U.S. national team already clinched a spot in the 2014 World Cup. And yes, it's true that Panama, still clawing for a Cup berth, will have much more at stake than the U.S. team today in Panama City, where the teams play the final match of the CONCACAF qualifying round.
But anybody who believes this game isn't important to the Americans hasn't spoken to U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann .
"We want to finish off the year on a high note," Klinsmann said upon naming his roster last week. "These games already count toward the World Cup in 2014 in terms of the internal competition and the mentality we are trying to build."
Other than injured Michael Bradley (ankle), Clint Dempsey (hamstring), Eddie Johnson (groin strain) and Fabian Johnson (ankle), the rest of the top U.S. players were called in to duty for Friday's game against Jamaica and the Tuesday game against Panama. The moment the team booked its spot, Klinsmann stepped up his expectations.
"Once you achieve the goal of qualifying, you understand that the next higher level is already waiting for us," Klinsmann said. "The World Cup is a couple of levels higher up than the qualifying, even if it's not an easy thing do go through. The benchmark in the World Cup is far higher, so whatever we do now already prepares us for that. Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014 and, therefore, it's important the players understand this is serious business.
"We want to see improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot. You only have to say one word: Brazil. Then, you automatically get fired up."
Klinsmann said nobody should take his starting job for granted, not even wily veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard. He said backup Brad Guzan , who plays at Aston Villa in England, will start against Panama because he has earned the right to do so.
"You want to have your established player who is No. 1 in this position being challenged," Klinsmann said. "You want to have him on his toes and know the next guy is waiting. It keeps you hungry and motivated and focused. With the goalkeepers, we have one of the best situations in the world."
Two South Floridians seem to be solidifying their spots on the team - forward Jozy Altidore of Boca Raton and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya of Weston. Bedoya caught Klinsmann's attention with his Gold Cup performance and is now playing well for Nantes in the French first division. Altidore moved to English Premier League club Sunderland this season, and though he hasn't scored, Klinsmann likes what he has seen.
"I'm personally very, very happy with how Jozy is coming along in the Premier League so far," Klinsmann said. "He hasn't scored the goals yet that he expects from himself. But I watch his games, and he's high energy and he's a handful. He challenges back lines, and he's often by himself and the support is not what it should be. He's already been through a coaching change, which is not easy to digest. I see that jump to the Premier League being very positive. He challenges himself in a difficult environment, and it's coming along. He just needs to be patient, and his goals will come."
Tuesday's U.S. vs. Panama match is at 9:30 p.m. EDT and will be televised by BeIN Sport USA. Other Tuesday qualifiers include Mexico vs. Costa Rica; Jamaica vs. Honduras; Chile vs. Ecuador; Paraguay vs. Colombia; Uruguay vs. Argentina; England vs. Poland; Sweden vs. Germany; and Ghana vs. Egypt. The Egyptian team is coached by former U.S. coach Bob Bradley.
Mexico is on the road Tuesday against Costa Rica in a critical match (8 p.m., Telemundo). The Mexicans struggled all year and are in danger of not qualifying. The Ticos already qualified but want to play well in front of their home fans and get their first World Cup qualifying win over Mexico in more than 20 years.
Mexico is now under the direction of recently hired manager Victor Manuel Vucetich. He brought in veterans Rafa Marquez and Guillermo Ochoa.
World Cup Tickets
More than 6 million ticket applications were submitted in the first phase of sales for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
The most ticket requests were made by residents in Brazil (4,368,029). But the second-place country might surprise you. The United States was next with 374,065 ticket requests.
Argentina (266,937), Germany (134,899), Chile (102,288), England (96,780), Australia (88,082), Japan (69,806), Colombia (55,379) and Canada (49,968) rounded out the top 10.
The most popular host cities were Sao Paulo, which will host the opening match June 12, Rio de Janeiro and Curitiba. The most popular team packages were Argentina and Netherlands.
Ticketing on FIFA.com will reopen Nov. 5 and remain open until Nov. 28.
BRAZIL IN MIAMI
The Brazilian national team - including megastar Neymar - will play Honduras in a friendly at Miami's Sun Life Stadium on Nov. 16. It is the first time Brazil will play in Miami since the 2003 Gold Cup quarterfinals. Tickets start at $35 and are on sale at the stadium box office and through Ticketmaster.
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