Michael Bradley says it’s “about as close as you can come to all or nothing“, and that’s not rhetoric.
The United States will host Guatemala on Tuesday in a huge World Cup qualifier, having sacrificed nearly all open space in its room for error thanks to Friday’s loss in Guatemala City.
With four points through three matches, the USMNT trails Guatemala by two points and Trinidad and Tobago by four in the quest to reach the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
It would be a massive upset if Saint Vincent and the Grenadines won at T&T on Tuesday, meaning a loss against Guatemala in Columbus would all-but-doom the Yanks.
An already injury-hampered squad gets two welcome additions in Sporting KC wide man Graham Zusi and Borussia Dortmund teenager Christian Pulisic, the latter coming off an illness.
Zusi could slot in right away if Jurgen Klinsmann puts players in more comfortable positions than Friday’s head-scratching lineup, one that saw a right back at right mid, an attacking mid in a defensive roles, and a right mid on the left.
For Klinsmann, there’s a fundamental need to simplify and put the United States in its cleanest formation. A mad scientist when allowed, surely even the yessiest of yes men will be ready to speak up to the boss. USSF president Sunil Gulati has been incredibly faithful to his head coach and technical director, but a loss would be unforgivable on a sporting level.
It’s not new for the States to be in a precarious position before the Hex, but that’s hardly helpful. Guatemala will know it can sit back against a U.S. side that barely threatened during Friday’s match, because even a point earned will seriously endanger the Yanks.
There was an element of desperation in Guatemala’s game that the Yanks were missing from the kickoff. Perhaps it had to do with all the pregame talk about getting six points and taking September off — an almost Wenger-esque presumption — but the U.S. players will be on high alert this time around.
“This really shows our character – who wants it more?” he said. “We’ve got to show that on Tuesday. … It’s all about showing our character. It’s a big one on Tuesday and we’re coming out here in front of a home crowd to show that we’re going to get it done.”
As bad as Friday was — the U.S. hadn’t lost to Guatemala in 21 years — the game was basically even in traditional statistics and the States should be favored to win the return leg, perhaps easily. Guatemala captain and second goal scorer Carlos Ruiz is not traveling with the visitors, and the 46 degree temperature at kickoff isn’t in their wheelhouse (It’ll be 70 at the same time in Guatemala City).
Even given the pressure and self-inflicted table wounds, the U.S. should absolutely pick up all three points at MAPFRE Stadium. Consider that Clint Dempsey missed a point blank chance, Michael Bradley was uncharacteristically off and even stubborn Klinsmann would’ve learned from how much better his side looked once Geoff Cameron slid central and DeAndre Yedlin dropped to right back.
A loss is a disaster and draw is almost as bad. The Yanks score in the first half and only stumble a bit in a 3-1 win that gets, not earns, Klinsmann a stay through the Copa America.