The United States Men’s National Team loss to Guatemala in World Cup qualifying was a disaster. The lack of cohesive play, the poor coaching choices and the overall product on the field was an embarrassment to a nation that considers itself an elite in CONCACAF. Much is being written today about the consequences, short- and long-term, to the US’s qualification chances and the job security of Jurgen Klinsmann.
But with every rain cloud, there is a rainbow even though it may be hard to see there were some positives from the match for the US. With a line-up of veterans and younger players, the US had the opportunity to see the consequences of its youth development program and how some of its veterans can fit into the team long-term. Again, many of the consequences were negative but let’s pause from reading panicked stories about the team and look at four positive consequences of yesterday’s match.
1, Some young players learned how to play away in CONCACAF
For players like DeAndre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, and Bobby Wood, their time on the pitch in a competitive game (or, more accurately, a non-blow out) allowed these critical players of the future to see exactly what a World Cup qualifier is all about. For these players, a tough away match with their clubs is staying in a fairly posh hotel with fans who are vocal but do not have an intense hatred of you and what your team stands for. They know now, and while the end result was a loss, the experience will hopefully allow them to handle the pressure better in the next rounds, assuming the US advances.
2. Bobby Wood showed he could push Altidore and Dempsey for playing time
The US striker conundrum continues as Klinsmann continues to need to rely on an aging Dempsey and inconsistent Altidore up top. Many young options or uncapped MLS veterans have been brought in to find a solution but they all have flaws (age, experience, talent, consistency) that have kept the Sounders and Toronto FC players in their starting roles. While he did not score, Wood showed enough skill and smarts to challenge the two-player hierarchy at the US striker spot. Better midfield play would have given him better chances, but he showed enough that he should be a starter for this team in the near future.
3. The US squad has a resilience that at least allows them to stay competitive
Yes, they failed to score and grab a result from this match, but the best play from the US came when they were down 2-0. At the beginning of the second half, when Klinsmann started making his substitutions, the Americans finally began to gel on the attack and actually posed a threat. Their poor finishing doomed that, but we have seen last cycle what happens when a team quits under adversity. Mexico barely qualified for the 2014 World Cup and only with US help when they wilted under adversity. At least the US won’t be quitting in the competition.
4. The result forces US Soccer to have a tough conversation
There is no sugarcoating it. This was the worst result for the US men under Klinsmann. The US will have to face the embarrassment of losing to an inferior opponent by playing poorly in every phase of the game. Sunil Gulati has said in the past he will hold his hand-picked coach accountable for his results, but no disaster like this has been seen when the stakes have been so high. All of the criticisms of Klinsmann – unable to develop new talent, reliance on older out-of-form players, tactical naiveté – were on display. If Gulati wanted to ignore the criticism, it will be impossible now with specter of the team missing the Hex. The time until the next match will not allow much time to think through the future of a Klinsmann regime but it will also present another test soon after he failed the last one. It is inevitable that the USSF will have to decide whether Klinsmann is its man regardless or if a change needs to be made now, before the next qualifier.
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