The stakes couldn’t have been higher for Tuesday. If the US men lost to Guatemala again, they’d be on the brink of missing the 2018 World Cup and coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s job would surely be on the line.
But for now, it appears all is forgiven – at least Klinsmann may be hoping so.
After a disastrous first leg the saw the US embarrassed in Guatemala, the US surged back and steamrolled past Los Chapines in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday, 4-0.
With pressure mounting, Klinsmann started a much more conservative and practical line-up by overhauling the starting 11 that suffered the previous stunning defeat. Those changes, which included putting players in more natural roles, looked like the difference in the second leg of Concacaf World Cup qualifying against Guatemala.
“We talked over the past few days about what it would take on a night like this,” US midfielder Michael Bradley said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who have played games like this before. I think our experience and commitment carried us through.”
Now, the US sits second Group C at 7 points, below Trinidad & Tobago with 10 points. Guatemala dropped to third place on 6 points while St Vincent & the Grenadines sits at the bottom scoreless. The top two teams will advance to the next and final hexagonal round of Concacaf qualifying – and if the US wins their next qualifier in September, they will are almost assured to advance.
Midfielder Graham Zusi, who was called in over the weekend as surprise reinforcement, earned a starting nod against Guatemala and eventually added the USA’s third goal. Twenty seconds in the second half, a loose ball got away from Gyasi Zardes and Zusi fired it past goalkeeper Paulo Motta.
Clint Dempsey, who had been left off Klinsmann’s last two rosters before returning for this series, played the early hero for the Americans. In the 12th minute, Geoff Cameron floated a ball toward Zardes, who drew two Guatemalan defenders in the box. Zardes knocked it into the path of the on-running Dempsey for the one-time strike.
Cameron doubled the US lead in the 35th minute. Bradley lobbed a free kick as Cameron easily broke away from his defender, header heading it back toward the near post to double the US lead.
Ethan Finlay scored what should’ve been a fourth goal for the US, but the officiating crew wrongly called him offside. Instead that last goal went to Jozy Altidore who scored in the 89th minute, knocking in a ball laid off by Dempsey.
Bradley will be ruled out for the USA’s next World Cup qualifying match against St Vincent & the Grenadines in September on yellow card accumulation.
Christian Pulisic, the 17-year-old midfielder with Borussia Dortmund, entered the match late for his first official US cap, tying him to the US national team for his international career despite his Croatian eligibility.
Tuesday’s match against Guatemala should have been a routine qualifier for the US, but a stunning 2-0 loss on Friday made it a must-win. The US’s first leg loss to Guatemala was their first since 1988 and with it, Guatemala became the lowest-ranked team the US had ever lost to in a non-friendly since rankings were introduced in 1992. The US also continued a streak that saw them winless in their last six non-friendlies against teams ranked in Fifa’s top 100 world teams.
With Friday’s loss, Guatemala became the lowest-ranked team the US had ever lost to in a non-friendly since rankings were introduced in 1992. The US also continued a streak that saw them winless in their last six non-friendlies against teams ranked in Fifa’s top 100 world teams.
“For me the difference was the collective mentality, the effort, the commitment, the willingness to forget about everything else on the outside and when the whistle blew, spill their guts on the field,” Bradley said.
According to analysis from ESPN, the US now have a 92% chance of advancing to the next hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying. If they had drawn to Guatemala, that chance would’ve dropped to 59 percent and a loss would’ve put it as an alarming 10%, making it a must-win scenario.
For Klinsmann, his revamped roster that replaced five players and shifted the roles of others into more natural positions may amount to an admission of the wrong strategy in Guatemala. The accusation that Klinsmann uses his players in the wrong positions isn’t a new one, especially after a string of bad results in the past year.
Over the weekend, Klinsmann insisted he didn’t play anyone out of position on Friday, but his changes suggested otherwise. Klinsmann’s more pragmatic approach moved Cameron to his favored center-back from right back and Deandre Yedlin was pulled back from a winger role to right back, where he plays for Tottenham.
Klinsmann’s preferred first choice center-back John Brooks and left back Fabian Johnson were both injured for both legs.
The US came out in a 4-3-3 and looked more organized than they did during their nightmare first-leg showing in Guatemala. They pressured Los Chapines high and by all accounts dominated. The US out-shot them 9-to-5 and held the edge across the board in possession (52% to 48%), final third passing accuracy (68% to 54%) and crossing accuracy (13% to 0%).
Before the kickoff in Columbus, fans hired a plane to fly a banner over Mapfre Stadium with the hashtag #KlinsmannOut and the phrase, “He’s a tiny little bit behind,” a reference to Klinsmann’s explanation for cutting Landon Donovan before the 2014 World Cup. It appears those fans will have to wait a while longer to get what they want.
Now, moving onto the next round of World Cup qualifying appears all but guaranteed. The US will face St Vincent & the Grenadines on 2 September.
This article was written by Caitlin Murray, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 30th March 2016 02.55 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010