USMNT-Guatemala talking points: Zusi’s return; Not this summer’s Chapines

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With Graham Zusi back in the fold, the United States now has eight available starters who played in the summer’s 4-0 thrashing of Guatemala in the Gold Cup.

The Yanks, however, also have all 11 of the starters who put on the red, blue and black (!!!) of the USMNT for Friday’s 2-0 loss in Guatemala City. Woof.

Those two paragraphs, in a nutshell, are part of the new dichotomy of the United States’ relationship with Guatemala. Twenty-one years of controlling matches, several of them decisive, square up with Friday’s fright show.

[ MORE: Full USMNT-Guatemala preview ]

Here’s the thing that’s been lost in the backlash of Friday’s loss: While the U.S. has no excuses for its performance and deservedly lost, Guatemala only had one starter who played in the 4-0 loss last Spring: goalkeeper and Man of the Match honoree Paulo Motta.

Guatemala is seemingly a much better side now under Walter Claveri, who happens to be reaping the rewards of a breakout few months from attacker Gerson Tinoco. They were far better organized, and didn’t wilt under U.S. pressure (though the Yanks also whiffed on several chances to score, highlighted by Clint Dempsey‘s second-half shot right at Motta).

United States' Geoff Cameron, right, and Guatemala's Jose Contreras jump for the ball during a 2018 Russia World Cup qualifying soccer match at Mateo Flores Stadium in Guatemala City, Friday, March 25, 2016. (AP Photo/ Moises Castillo)
Cameron (AP Photo/ Moises Castillo)

But can Guatemala do it on a cold night in Columbus?

[ MORE: Klinsmann defends Friday’s lineup ]

Jurgen Klinsmann’s team needs a win — not even a draw will do — in the worst way come Tuesday in Columbus, and remains without two of its most in-form players now that both Fabian Johnson and John Anthony Brooks have headed back to Germany with knocks.

Klinsmann didn’t have the luxury of consistent veteran Geoff Cameron for the Gold Cup as the Stoke City man took the summer off after a season of injuries at the Brittania Stadium. He’ll easy replace Timmy Chandler (and then some) even after the German defender scored in that March match.

Brad Guzan could be back in goal on Tuesday, as Tim Howard failed to make game-saving saves even if hung out to dry by his defense. Guzan has not shown well for Aston Villa in recent weeks. David Bingham and William Yarbrough are also in U.S. camp, but Klinsmann’s not going to pin a World Cup’s worth of hopes on a lesser-known entity.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings from loss to Guatemala ]

Zusi, honestly, could be a big key to stabilizing the unit. The Yanks went 3-1 when he started in 2015, the lone loss being the Gold Cup shootout against Panama. He played in all four World Cup matches and picked up assists against Portugal and Ghana.

Moreso than the performances, “San Zusi” should bring calm and measured intensity. And even if Alejandro Bedoya can go, Zusi is more comfortable on the left side than the Nantes midfielder. That would allow DeAndre Yedlin to pair up with Bedoya while Zusi works with Edgar Castillo.

Now another big “if” comes in the form of Jozy Altidore, who could start up top with Bobby Wood and move Dempsey either deeper or off the pitch. Dropping Bradley back into the defensive midfield role above Cameron and either Omar Gonzalez or Steve Birnbaum. That would give the U.S. XI more potency on set pieces and in attack overall.

Again, the U.S. should win this contest. Should doesn’t often mean well in recent USMNT history, but that’s what you have to work with until at least Tuesday evening’s kick.