U.S. Men's National Team
Was Friday's Loss a Hiccup or Proof that the US Stinks?
March 27, 2016
THE LAST TIME the United States faced Guatemala it cruised to a 4-0 win in a July friendly at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Two years before that the Yanks thumped Los Chapines 6-0 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
That 10-0 combined score line is to be expected as Guatemalan soccer has fallen on hard times. The team finished in last place in its group at the 2015 Gold Cup and failed to even qualify for the 2013 edition. Ronald Reagan was president the last time Guatemala defeated the United States.
Until Friday, that is.
Jurgen Klinsmann's men made the hosts look like an emerging regional power in a resounding 2-0 loss in Guatemala City. It appeared as though the United States, not Guatemala, had been the down and out program over the past decade.
While the Americans have advanced out of World Cup group play in three out of the last four World Cups—an impressive record—recent signs suggest the program is in serious trouble. The disappointing friendly results in 2014 were alarming. The fourth-place finish in last year's Gold Cup—during which the Yanks were consistently outplayed and outshot—increased the hand-wringing. Mexico's domination in October's CONCACAF Cup confirmed suspicions.
And Friday's terrible display suggest that the United States men's national team has pervasive issues—with no end in sight.
The U.S. is no longer a dominant regional power. It looks like it is just managing to keep its head above water. This isn't about introducing a few new players into the mix to solve the problem. No, it runs deeper than that. The players' body language spoke volumes: They looked defeated, frustrated, unsure of themselves, and confused.
I watched the game a second time—so you wouldn't have to—and made a number of observations.
Less than the sum of its parts
Yes, Klinsmann had to deal with injuries: John Brooks returned to Hertha Berlin, Matt Besler suffered a concussion on Thursday, and Fabian Johnson is still recovering from a strained groin.
But this team, on paper, was capable of so much more than it displayed on Friday. The United States player pool features enough talent that it could produce six different teams capable of beating Guatemala. Alejandro Bedoya, Bobby Wood, Geoff Cameron, and Edgar Castillo are all enjoying very good seasons but none were able to come close to replicating that level of play for their national team.
And yes—Klinsmann’s commitment to deploying his players out of position continues to perplex.
Alejandro Bedoya struggled against Guatemala but he spent a lot on the left side of the midfield. At Nantes, he plays mostly in a central, attacking role. (Occasionally he plays on the right but he cuts in a lot.)
DeAndre Yedlin is earning regular minutes at right back for Sunderland and is performing well for the English Premier League club. For some reason Klinsmann still does not want to give Yedlin the keys to the right back position for the U.S. and instead moves him into the midfield—where he does not look comfortable.
Michael Bradley continues to languish in the No. 10 position and while Geoff Cameron continues to see occasional minutes at right back for Stoke, he has been quite clear that it is his third-best position—after central defense and central midfield.
Mix Diskerud, meanwhile, has been struggling for New York City FC and his role is uncertain as either an attacking, defensive, or box-to-box midfielder.
Then you have players like Michael Orozco earning the start, which reflects the coach's unwillingness to expand the depth chart. Orozco has had some decent games for the U.S. but he has not played a minute in Liga MX in 2016 and the 30-year-old has even featured for Tijuana’s U-20 side.
The United States does not resemble a team at the moment. It's a collection of individuals who are unsure of their roles.
Another Poor Start
It would be one thing if the United States came out swinging, struggled to execute, and Guatemala found goals against the run of play. But that was not the case Friday night.
In the first competitive game of 2016 (and the first game to feature European players on a FIFA date), the U.S. looked timid and unfocused from the opening whistle. There was no killer instinct on display despite the opportunity to establish a dominant position in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying. There was nothing that suggested the players were hungry to put an ugly 2015 behind them.
The team looked thoroughly unprepared. To get beat on a goal kick up the middle is simply inexcusable—something you never see happen to quality teams.
The Americans couldn't bury their chances but those things happen from time to time. The lack of preparation, however, reflects a disconnect between the players and the coach and does not bode well for future qualifiers and this summer's high profile Copa American Centenario.
Nagbe was a bright spot
Bobby Wood was pretty good and Edgar Castillo had his moments at left back, but Darlington Nagbe was the only Yank who truly had a good game. He came on for Diskerud at halftime and proved effective in leading the attack. Early in the second half the U.S. generated a handful of quality scoring chances and Nagbe was involved in each of them.
Clearly, Nagbe is ready for a bigger role on the team and Klinsmann needs to integrate the Portland Timbers midfielder into his core group of players.
Tuesday is suddenly a must-win
The United States now has just four points from its first three games in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying. The good news is that its most difficult games of this group—away trips to Guatemala and Trinidad and Tobago—are now behind them. Since it secured just one point from these two contests, however, there is little margin for error in the remaining home games and in the September 2nd road game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Klinsmann will likely make some some personnel changes for Tuesday’s rematch against Guatemala. He may even try using players in their natural positions.
But the first 20 minutes of the match should be revealing: If the players come out of the gate fired up and focused, it will be a very positive sign. If they do not, the U.S. men's national team program is in serious trouble.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.