Road to 2014: The Brazil Board 9.0 

February, 7, 2013

SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras -- It isn't hard to guess what you're thinking. After an ugly loss to the hosts here Wednesday in the U.S. squad's opening World Cup qualifier of 2013, the question on the minds of American fans probably isn't what the Yanks' opening-day lineup will look like in Brazil -- but rather whether Jurgen Klinsmann's team will make it to next year's tournament.

There are no guarantees, of course. The five other participants in CONCACAF's Hexagonal round of preliminaries are as strong collectively as any field in the region's history, and the Americans were anything but convincing in their curtain-raiser.

Slumps can be fatal in the Hex. The margin for error is slim. With a trip to Mexico City's infamous Azteca Stadium looming at the end of March, the loss in Honduras means the U.S. is already under intense pressure just one game into the competition. All of a sudden, the Yanks are facing a must-win situation in Colorado on March 22, when they'll face a talented Costa Rica team four days before the grudge match against archrival El Tri south of the border.

"In these coming games," Klinsmann said following the Catrachos' 2-1 victory, "we have to make sure that we get the points that we need to qualify for Brazil, which we will do."

There's little doubt that the coach believes this. And the fact is the odds still favor the Americans in spite of the defeat.

It's safe to say that Klinsmann learned a lot about his squad in San Pedro Sula. For starters, he might want to keep Carlos Bocanegra -- who's still ahead of fellow veteran Clarence Goodson on the shallow center back depth chart -- around a bit longer after Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez struggled, and also because young dual-national John Anthony Brooks just accepted an invite to Germany's under-21 squad. (Not to mention the squad could be short-handed for a while after Steve Cherundolo's knee surgery.

He's probably having second thoughts about defensive midfielder Danny Williams, who turned in another untidy performance in the holding role behind Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.