Out of position and, now, out of room for error, the United States finds themselves in an early must-win match in the second leg of their World Cup qualifier against Guatemala tonight in Columbus.
For the first time in 30 years, the United States Men’s National Team is in peril of failing to qualify for a FIFA World Cup. If the Americans lose to Guatemala in the second leg of their qualifying match Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2), they most certainly would not be a part of soccer’s biggest, most important tournament next summer in Russia.
“There’s a sense of urgency tomorrow night because we need three points now,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said to the press on Monday.
The sense of urgency that he’s demanding out of his team on Tuesday night was nowhere to be found in Guatemala City in the 2-0 loss to Los Chapines – a match that saw the U.S. go down surprisingly early, allowing a goal off of a Guatemala corner and off of, technically speaking, a goal kick all in the first 15 minutes.
It was a dream start for Los Chapines and a nightmare for the Americans.
Now the Americans need to respond.
Despite looking like a team that’s just about given up, the Americans haven’t lost a match in Columbus, Ohio . . . ever.
Without trying to jinx it, the U.S. is undefeated in their last 28 straight qualifiers at home (26-0-2). Their last loss on home soil came against Honduras, 3-2 back in September of 2001 in Washington D.C.
“Certainly Columbus, when you look back at the history, there’s something special here,” Bradley explained. “It’s a bit of mystique. Teams come here and know a little bit about that history and look at our record when we played here and they know they’re going to be in for a tough night.”
Although Klinsmann hasn’t had the U.S. program looking as sharp, or as promising as it did just two years ago, the program has completely struggled since then – falling into fourth place in the Gold Cup, losing to Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup, then falling 1-0 to Costa Rica and playing to a scoreless draw with Trinidad and Tobago.
“All these experiences along the way you use to help you get through,” USMNT captain and midfielder Michael Bradley explained on Monday. “You have to understand that somewhere along the way, maybe twice, you’re playing in a game where your lives depend on it. Certainly that’s the case tomorrow night.”
USA loss in Guatemala means return game on Tues is very big – lose it and almost certainly out of World Cup. Must see match on ESPN2 7pm ET.
— Ian Darke (@IanDarke) March 26, 2016
Klinsmann took a lot of heat from just about everybody for playing players out of position in the loss Friday night. He decided to start Tim Howard in the net, who’s struggled at Everton, eventually losing his starting spot, started Mix Diskerud as a holding midfielder instead of in the attacking mid as he is usually in and put Michael Bradley in the attacking front instead of letting him play back. He played Michael Orozco, someone who hasn’t played for his club yet and played Alejandro Bedoya on the left wing, a spot he also hasn’t played on his club side. Geoff Cameron played right back instead of central defender, and World Cup breakout star DeAndre Yedlin played in the wing instead of right back.
Unfortunately, Klinsmann won’t admit it.
“I’m not playing anyone out of position,” Klinsmann said. “I know that Geoff Cameron can play right back and center back. I know that Yedlin can play right winger and right back. This is a good thing for us to have because we try to put the pieces together the best way possible in order for them to fit. Having that option with certain players – Fabian Johnson as a fullback or as a midfielder, which he does the same thing in transitioning in either position with his club team – is good for us.”
It should be safe to say that with the World Cup on the line, Klinsmann won’t be experimenting with anything in Columbus on Tuesday.
Guatemala, on the other hand, have added a bit of help to help them knock the U.S. out of World Cup contention. Defender Hamilton Lopez and forward Carlos Ruiz traveled with Los Chapines to Columbus after settling visa and legal issues. Ruiz torched the U.S. Friday night for Guatemala’s second goal.
The lights are set for a familiar stage for the Americans. Four years ago Klinsmann’s crew responded to a possibly devastating loss in the first leg to Jamaica by defeating the Reggae Boyz 1-0 at home, sparking their run to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Four years after that spark, they’ll need to do it again.