It wasn't always pretty, but the United States got the win they needed heading into the Gold Cup, taking down Guatemala 4-0 thanks largely to a dominant second half that saw them score three times to put the game away.
Things started favoring the USMNT early on, with the home side using their edge in pace and athleticism to dominate the opening spell of the match, getting forward and causing regular danger. They struggled to get good shots away, though, having issues with some of Guatemala's physical play in the final third.
The first clear scoring chance for the U.S. actually came off a penalty, when Jozy Altidore was hacked down in the box trying to get to a cross in the 17th minute. Altidore's effort to score from the spot wasn't great, though, and Guatemalan goalkeeper Paulo Motta saved it with ease.
That penalty save didn't get the USMNT down, though. That penalty save just made the USMNT mad.
They raced forward with a newfound aggression, and it caught Guatemala off-guard in a bad way. It was just two minutes after Motta parried Altidore's penalty that he was left flailing, after a cross deflected off Carlos Castrillo and into the back of Guatemala's net for an embarrassing own goal.
The rest of the first half saw a couple of dangerous Guatemala attacks, thanks to the USMNT slowing down a touch, but more chances went to the U.S., especially when Clint Dempsey took over the match for a few minutes late in the half. The opening period still ended 1-0, with the score nearly going level right away in the second half when Guatemala caught the U.S. defense napping, but fresh substitute Jose Contreras couldn't get his shot on target.
The U.S. weren't interested in giving Guatemala another chance at leveling the scoreline, applying more heavy pressure to try to grab a second goal. It wound up taking a little time, but Timmy Chandler's wonder strike from outside of the box was well worth the wait.
The USMNT weren't satisfied with that scoreline, so forward they went again. And again. And again. Just after the 70th minute, it was Chandler playing creator, trying to slip in Dempsey at the back post, but Dempsey lost his balance and couldn't get to the ball. The U.S. were able to keep it alive, though, and Michael Bradley's drive into the box saw him hacked down and then kicked in the head, earning the U.S. another penalty that Dempsey put away with ease.
Guatemala pulled out all the stops to pull a goal back, but the fourth goal of the match went to the U.S. once more, with Gyasi Zardes sending in a scintillating ball that Dempsey knocked back to Chris Wondolowski to tap home. That 4-0 scoreline was how the match ended, giving the USMNT the emphatic win they needed heading into the Gold Cup. It wasn't a perfect performance, but it gave a lot of reason and hope to think that they can repeat what we saw Friday once the matches start to count next week.
United States: Brad Guzan; Timothy Chandler, Omar Gonzalez (Ventura Alvarado 46'), John Brooks (Tim Ream 62'), Fabian Johnson (Greg Garza 46'); DeAndre Yedlin, Mikkel Diskerud (Alfredo Morales 62'), Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi (Gyasi Zardes 46'); Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore (Chris Wondolowski 68')
Goals: Castrillo OG (20'), Chandler (58'), Dempsey pen. (72'), Wondolowski (86')
Guatemala: Paulo Motta; Ruben Morales, Wilson Lalin, Carlos Castrillo (Carlos Figueroa 74'), Dennis Lopez; Jorge Aparicio, Kendell Herrarte (Stefano Cincotta 84'), Carlos Mejia (Marco Pappa 46'), Brandon De Leon (Jonathan Marquez 69'); Jairo Arreola (Jose Contreras 46'), Minor Lopez (Carlos Ruiz 46')
1. Mikkel Diskerud was fine as a defensive midfielder -- but it's just Guatemala
Aside from one rash tackle that could arguably have earned him a red card, Diskerud did fine in his audition as a holding midfielder. It's a different role for Mix, who usually works as kind of a roaming playmaker, but against a Guatemala team that didn't test him much, he did okay. His passing quality suffered a bit, which isn't great, but also wasn't entirely unexpected since he had to focus on things he's not used to doing, which can take a toll on a player's overall game.
Here's the thing, though: this was just Guatemala. They're one of the lesser lights of CONCACAF, and the USMNT will be facing teams that are much more aggressive in attack during the Gold Cup. If something happens to Kyle Beckerman during the tournament, they only have makeshift options for that more defensive role in midfield, with Tim Ream and Brad Evans able to do a job there, but not necessarily natural at it. Based on what we saw today, it will be tough to realistically add Diskerud to that list of potential replacements.
2. The central defense needs work
From a pure talent perspective, John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez should be a pretty good pairing in the center of the back line. Something just hasn't quite clicked between them, though, and there were several moments when they clearly mis-communicated in the first half, leaving the U.S. defense caught out. That was especially true on set pieces, and was a theme that continued throughout the match, even once Brooks and Gonzalez had been subbed out.
The second unit didn't do much better. with Ventura Alvarado and Ream really struggling to set themselves up to work with one another. Guatemala got a few more chances than they probably should have because of the United States' defensive difficulties in the middle, and if they can't get this sorted out quickly, there are some teams in the Gold Cup who can take advantage of those problems much more readily than Guatemala could.
3. Welcome back to CONCACAF
The USMNT has played just one match against a non-Mexico CONCACAF opponent this year, so it's easy to forget just how rough-and-tumble matches in this confederation can get, and how the referees tend to let things go. Just in the opening ten minutes, DeAndre Yedlin was laid out twice but only given a foul once, Brooks was whistled for a foul despite being the one getting decked and Altidore came up limping when his ankle was stepped on with no foul given. His penalty took the linesman waiting and making the call himself after the referee initially didn't award it.
North and Central America are a rough place to play, and the U.S. need to get used to dealing with that again in order to play to their full capability in the Gold Cup. You could tell early on that Guatemala's physical play took the USMNT players out of their game a bit, but as the match progressed they did a better job of not just dealing with the rougher challenges, but finding ways to avoid or prevent them. That will be key to see continue for the U.S. to play well and stay out of trouble.