World Cup Qualifying
U.S. Men Fall to Guatemala, 2-0, in Depressing Display
March 25, 2016
IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG for CONCACAF to rear its ugly head Friday night in Guatemala City.
Six minutes in to the United States men's national team's first World Cup qualifier of 2016, Guatemalan midfielder Jean Marquez lifted an inocuous corner kick into the U.S. box. Standing eight yards from goal, his teammate, Rafael Morales, nodded the ball off target—straight down, as a matter of fact—but it bounced off U.S. midfielder Mix Diskerud's back, changed directions, and dribbled past goalkeeper Tim Howard and into the back of the net.
Guatemala 1, United States 0.
Less than 10 minutes later, an even less threatening goal kick glanced off Michael Bradley's bald pate—the American captain was standing in the center circle—and somehow skipped past the entire U.S. backline. A streaking Carlos Ruiz ran onto the ball, took a touch, and then nutmegged Howard with a right-footed shot.
Guatemala 2, United States 0.
OK, yes, but order would be restored eventually, right? The Americans would roar back, wouldn't they?
They would not. The scoreline never changed and the Yanks fell to the Central Americans.
Oh, that's right. It's a CONCACAF World Cup qualifier. This is just what happens.
Before we place all blame at the feet of the idiosyncratic nature of the Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football, let's consider U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann's contributions to this debacle.
Geoff Cameron plays centrally for Stoke City, but the German coach started him at right back Friday night. DeAndre Yedlin plays right back for Sunderland but Klinsmann started him on the right wing. Bradley, a holding midfielder for Toronto FC, played in an advanced position. Diskerud, an attacking midfielder, filled the No. 6 role.
Why? No clue.
If the roster-tinkering pays off, Klinsmann looks like a master tactician. If it does not—and Friday night it failed miserably—the responsibility-adverse coach simply has to accept the blame.
More troubling, the Yanks appeared to have no clue what to do offensively, especially in the opening 45 minutes. Apparently incapable of maintaining possession against the No. 95 team in the world, Klinsmann's men resorted to booting the ball forward and trying to run onto the ball. It felt like 1998.
As the second half began, Diskerud gave way to Darlington Nagbe—who moved into an advanced central midfield role as Bradley shifted back to his preferred spot closer to the backline.
The Yanks immediately started playing better soccer, pushing forward, probing the Guatemalan defense, and creating opportunities.
In the 52nd minute Clint Dempsey unleashed a strong shot on goal, but it was saved easily. Alejandro Bedoya followed that up with a good chance, but Guatemala goalkeeper Paulo Motta stopped that one too. Five minutes later Dempsey had another good opportunity: straight at the keeper.
As the one-hour mark approached, Klinsmann shifted into riverboat gambler mode. He subbed off (out-of-position) central defender Michael Orozco and replaced him with attacker Gyasi Zardes. A few minutes later he removed central defender Omar Gonzalez and brought on forward Jozy Altidore.
But it was already too late.
The well-coached Guatemalans sensed that they were in control of the contest and promptly put 10, and sometimes 11, men behind the ball. The home team absorbed the pressure and kept the increasingly desperate Americans in check.
Still trailing by two goals in the 82nd minute, Dempsey found Altidore on his own in the right channel but Motta kicked the Toronto FC forward's right-footed shot wide of goal and into touch.
And that was it.
And the below graphic tells quite a story, doesn't it?
Was this the worst overall showing of the Klinsmann era? Probably.
Will the U.S. be able to turn things around against this same Guatemala team Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio? Hard to say.
Give us your take below.
John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.