U.S. Men’s National Team fans alike were left dazed and confused following their team’s unconvincing performance against Guatemala last Friday.
[ MORE: USMNT knocks off Guatemala in must-win WCQ matchup ]
However, Jurgen Klinsmann’s group came out and turned things around significantly on Tuesday, when the USMNT captured a dominating 4-0 victory against the same Los Chapines team.
[ MORE: Player ratings for USMNT-Guatemala ]
Despite the win though, the elephant in the room remains the same for the U.S.: where does the USMNT go from here?
It’s a loaded question really. While the Americans currently sit second in Group C for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, the fact of the matter remains that the team was handed a more than favorable draw to begin with. Tuesday’s win may have masked the bitter taste from a few days prior, but anyone that has seen the nation’s progression (or lack there of) over recent years will still be concerned.
Let’s take a look at some of the storylines that still plague the U.S.:
Who steps up scoring when Dempsey is gone?
Jozy Altidore notched his third goal of WCQ against Guatemala, but this is a recurring issue that the U.S. has faced for some time now. Other than Dempsey and Altidore, Geoff Cameron, primarily a defender, is the only other American player with more than one goal throughout qualifying thus far. The emergence of Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris in the future is something that the Americans will surely be banking on, but while the two have shown flashes of brilliance at times in their young international careers, it’s simply too soon to definitely say that either is a viable option moving forward.
The U.S. has struggled for some time in the search for their Robert Lewandowski or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. While both players are a tad unrealistic to emulate, you see my point. Chris Wondolowski, Terrence Boyd and Aron Johannsson are just a few of the names that have come and gone for the Americans, with nobody truly making an impact at forward.
Defense still a major concern
Guatemala simply isn’t a very good team. That was what was so troubling about the 2-0 loss just days before last night’s win. A poorly contested header off a corner kick, followed by a goal conceded from a goal kick that went the length of the field are plays that should be seen as worrisome for the U.S.. The injuries to John Brooks, Matt Besler and Fabian Johnson were immense, so this situation is a bit tricky to assess, however, Klinsmann’s tactics have done the team no favors at times.
On Tuesday, there was a noticeable difference at the back with DeAndre Yedlin and Cameron playing at right back and centerback, respectively. While Cameron prefers a defensive midfield role best, centerback is still a very real option for the Stoke City player as the U.S. looks to bring in a new generation of defenders over the next few years, including Matt Miazga, Tim Parker and Cameron Carter-Vickers. Finding a consistent back four should be Klinsmann’s number one target before the Hexagonal (assuming they qualify).
Bradley best with Beckerman at DM
While Michael Bradley isn’t necessarily the most creative midfielder in the game of football, he is one of the U.S.’ most valuable players, especially in the midfield. The Toronto FC man has been a staple of the American team dating back to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but there have been noticeable differences in his game over the years.
Tuesday was a prime example.
When Kyle Beckerman is playing a holding role behind Bradley, the captain makes better decisions and doesn’t force as many mistakes as he does when he has to handle more of the team’s defensive capabilities. Bradley is at his best when he is buzzing around the pitch, picking the ball up in the defensive half and then distributing it to the wings or carrying it up himself. With the 28-year-old still firmly established as a core member of the team’s midfield, it’s essential that the U.S. finds ample cover for him to maximize his play.
Klinsmann Era must be seen out barring WCQ collapse
Pundits and die-hard supporters have been calling for the German’s head since the U.S. bailed out of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, which was played on American soil. If there were ever a time for the U.S. to have fired Klinsmann it would have been following the disappointment of Gold Cup, or more so after the CONCACAF playoff that saw the Americans fall to rival Mexico.
One thing that can’t be denied is that Klinsmann’s tactical decisions have been head-scratching on many occasions throughout his tenure. Klinsmann will forever be remembered for not taking Landon Donovan to the 2014 World Cup, but in reality, he has bigger fish to fry at this point in his coaching career,
At a time where the U.S. and many other CONCACAF nations are struggling to find consistency, Klinsmann has to do some serious soul-searching over the coming months. While the Copa America Centenario will be seen as a massive tournament because of the competition that it brings to America the bigger goal at hand will always be World Cup qualification. Klinsmann’s goal, and it’s certainly a challenging one, must be establish an identity in the team. The Guatemala win showed that the U.S. is capable of getting wins when the chips are stacked against them, but it shouldn’t take a do-or-die scenario to instill that kind of urgency.