There’s no other way to describe the US Men’s National Team’s performance in Guatemala other than it was disgraceful, especially in the first half. That performance does not change if the USA take care of business in their last three games. But for now, the calls for Jurgen Klinsmann’s head have gotten louder again, and his shield used to deflect blame is getting pierced from all sides. What should be really concerning for Klinsmann and the team is that this predicament they find themselves in is nothing new, and not just in recent times.
Injuries meant that his first choice center back pairing of John Brooks and Matt Besler was out of the question. Fabian Johnson, his best player, was also injured. But even without those three players, the US should still have gotten a point against a Guatemala side that barely scraped into the semifinal round of qualifying against Antigua. What Klinsmann won’t say is that his team has been here before at this stage of World Cup Qualifying… four years ago.
The US won their first game against Antigua, but played poorly in a monsoon in Tampa. Then they drew Guatemala at the Mateo Flores stadium in an uninspiring but relatively unremarkable draw. In Kingston on the third matchday, they scored early against the Reggae Boyz but conceded two and lost 2-1, and then the sky was falling. They needed a desperate goal from Herculez Gomez to beat Jamaica in Columbus to save their qualifying campaign, and they ended up winning out and cruised in the Hex, but not without major struggles.
— beIN SPORTS USA (@beINSPORTSUSA) March 26, 2016
And so here, almost four years later, the US finds itself in the same position of needing a win in Columbus on a quick turnaround against a team they just played poorly against. They have a crumb of comfort in knowing that they don’t lose home qualifiers, but that won’t assuage the anger percolating towards Jurgen Klinsmann, and no amount of deflecting blame will make the situation any better for him. He played Michael Orozco, who hadn’t played for Xolos since November at center back, and played Geoff Cameron at right back. He decided to play Mix Diskerud as the most defensive midfielder, which backfired almost immediately. And because he barely called in any fullbacks, he was forced to play Edgar Castillo and a centerback outside, and it cost him.
In the second half, they still couldn’t find a way to crack a resolute Guatemalan defense.
Guatemala didn’t have many clear cut opportunities, but they didn’t need any because they made each of them count, including their corner in the second half, which they hit the crossbar. The US was wasteful with their chances, and started out unbalanced for no apparent tactical reason, and they were carved asunder with ease.
Losing in Central America is nothing new in CONCACAF qualification, but against Guatemala, the US hadn’t lost to since 1988. That stat looks terrible, but Jurgen Klinsmann has won once in Central America in his career, and that was a late goal against Panama when qualification was already clinched (by the way, how would history look if the US hadn’t won that game and Mexico missed the World Cup?)
This insipid performance does not change the paradigm for qualification to the Hex, but the pressure on Klinsmann ratchets up every passing minute, and plugging your ears while covering your eyes humming show tunes doesn’t mean the problem has gone away.
It is not time to panic, even though that’s the dominant reaction to the performance. All this result does is make the game in Columbus a must-win, even if the US is still likely to win it anyway. This result will then get forgotten like the Jamaica disaster four years ago did.
But unlike then, it’s highly unlikely that people will forget tonight. It’s going to be hard not to.
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