For the second cycle in a row, the United States men's national team is struggling to get to the final round of World Cup qualifying. They were awful on Friday, losing 2-0 away to Guatemala. It's their first loss to Guatemala in any competition since 1988 -- meaning their first of the professional era -- and their first ever loss to Guatemala in World Cup qualifying.
It only took seven minutes for the Guatemalans to find the back of the net. A bad back pass led to a corner, and Rafael Morales got his head to it, nodding the ball off the back of Mix Diskerud and past Tim Howard.
In the 15th minute, Guatemala doubled their lead, with the entire U.S. center misplaying a goal kick. Michael Bradley whiffed on a header, Diskerud got blocked off the ball and the entire American defense was asleep as Carlos Ruiz ran in behind. He was virtually uncontested as he picked up the ball and shot under Howard's body.
The USMNT started to look a bit better when Diskerud was replaced by Darlington Nagbe at halftime, but Guatemalan goalkeeper Paulo Motta turned in an excellent second half performance. He made a great double stop in the 52nd minute, denying Clint Dempsey from 10 yards, then doing the same to Alejandro Bedoya when the ball was worked back around to him five seconds later. He made another stop on Dempsey in the 57th minute off a pretty layoff by Bobby Wood, one of the few U.S. players who looked up for the game for 90 minutes,
Morales almost sealed the win for Guatemala when he hit the crossbar in the 70th minute, but the Americans never got on the scoreboard anyway. The closest they came was when substitute Jozy Altidore -- who came on for center back Omar Gonzalez in a desperation move -- was denied from close range by Motta in the 82nd minute.
United States: Howard, Castillo, Orozco (Zardes 59'), Gonzalez (Altidore 66'), Cameron, Bedoya, Bradley, Diskerud (Nagbe 46'), Yedlin, Dempsey, Wood
Guatemala: Motta, Jimenez, Lopez, Hernandez, Morales, Marquez, Tinoco, Contreras (Castrillo 71'), Cincotta (Pappa 46'), Saravia, Ruiz (89')
Goals: Morales (7'), Ruiz (15')
3 things we learned
1. It's hard to guess what Jurgen Klinsmann is even trying to do -- It would be one thing if Klinsmann tried a radical gameplan that failed miserably. But it's tough to guess what he's even going for, and that's a running theme. Alejandro Bedoya, Mix Diskerud, DeAndre Yedlin and Geoff Cameron all played in positions they've played very little or none of in the last year. It wasn't clear how they wanted to play when they had the ball, what their plan was for creating goals or how they wanted to press.
There is no process here. There are no learning experiences. This is a disjointed team with no plan that's making it up as they go along.
2. The USMNT is now in the same position as 2012 -- The silver lining is that most of these players have been in this exact situation before, during Klinsmann's first cycle in charge. After drawing Guatemala and losing to Jamaica, the USMNT found themselves in a must-win situation against the Reggae Boyz, where Herculez Gomez rescued a win for the Yanks. In their next game, they needed a 90th minute winner from Eddie Johnson to beat Antigua and Barbuda. In their final game of the second-to-last qualifying round, they beat Guatemala at home, sealing a place in the Hex. Fans hoped it would be less dramatic this time around, but that doesn't appear to be the case. In that sense, Klinsmann is pretty definitively the worst USMNT manager of the professional era.
3. Sunil Gulati's got his accountants working overtime -- We don't know exactly how much Klinsmann makes, but it's in the seven figures. Firing him is going to be expensive. If U.S. Soccer is going to take the plunge and ditch their manager, they'll have to figure out where the money is coming from first.