Once every four years, World Cup qualifying begins anew. Countries like the United States and Mexico start their journeys to the massive, quadrennial global showcase from scratch and because of mostly geography, they do so against other teams from North and Central America.
If you're a casual soccer fan with a patriotic fervor to match, welcome back. On Tuesday night, the USMNT faces a make-or-break World Cup qualifier against Guatemala (7:25 p.m. ET, ESPN2).
A lot's changed since 2014, when Julian Green looked like the future of US Men's National Team soccer and Tim Howard inexplicably kept the US in a game against Belgium, one of the best teams in the world.
Whether your window into the state of affairs is that one obnoxious-(inter)national soccer guy you follow on Twitter, how good the national team is on this year's "FIFA," or you're even less acclimated with the state of US soccer, there's a bunch to get caught up on.
Let's give it a go, shall we?
Everyone seems mad at Jurgen Klinsmann. Are they? And how mad?
Sure are. And pretty mad! Though how mad varies from blood-vendetta-against-the-entire-country-of-Germany to fire-this-idiot-like-yesterday, no USMNT partisans are particularly thrilled with the state of affairs.
While the root of said ire varies a hair, most of it centers around Klinsmann's coaching, player selection, and especially the results on the field.
I thought the US had a ton of momentum after making the World Cup's knockout round and surviving a so-called Group of Death. What happened?
The TL;DR is the US crashed out of their first tournament post World Cup, lost an important match against Mexico right after, then lost to Guatemala for the first time in almost 30 years. That last defeat put their 2018 World Cup hopes in jeopardy. It certainly didn't help that they looked like varying degrees of booty throughout the game.
So is Klinsmann the problem or...?
Even with replacement level coaching, the US player pool should be good enough for them to beat teams like Jamaica, Panama, and Guatemala. Klinsmann's tactical acumen has been famously criticized by former players like former Germany captain (and Bayern Munich great) Philipp Lahm, and we've seen little to discredit those criticisms, particularly since the World Cup.
Besides some rather suspect player selection/lineup decisions, Klinsmann hasn't done himself any favors by holding defensive press conferences after results haven't gone his way. He's gone as far to say that he doesn't play anyone out of position when he very clearly does, and sometimes denies that anything went wrong at all after losses.
There are increasingly fewer and fewer reasons to think that US Soccer wouldn't be better off with someone other than the guy they have, even if it was a short-order replacement. Alas, the opinion of US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, Klinsmann's boss, is the only one that truly matters.
Is anything else broken?
All the American goalies got old/bad/injured all at once. Clint Dempsey's on the wrong side of 30. Maybe Jozy Altidore was never all that great in the first place.
The USMNT's two best players (Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron) aren't always playing their most natural positions and Johnson is hurt. Arguably the three most talented players in the US player pool -- Matt Miazga, Jordan Morris and Christian Pulisic -- are 21, 20, and 17 respectively. The former two aren't in this team, while the latter is in Columbus and might make a desperation sub appearance.
Okay, so #KlinsmannOut, but what's going on tonight? And how does that affect the 2018 World Cup?
The US has a rematch with Guatemala, the team that gave US arguably the worst loss of the Klinsmann era just four short days ago. Though that one was in Guatemala City, this contest will be in relatively soccer crazed Columbus, Ohio at the home of Columbus Crew SC.
After Friday's bed-crapping, the United States is in third in their qualifying group, two points back of Guatemala and three behind Trinidad and Tobago.
A win on Tuesday would put them back into second at worst, and thus in position to advance to the next round of qualifying. A draw would keep them in third, and put them in a position where more and more was out of their control, and advancing would be difficult, to say the least. A loss wouldn't officially eliminate them, but would make it extremely, extremely unlikely that even if everything possible went their way, the US could advance.
Issues for the USMNT
Issues for the USMNT
If the US loses, will Klinsmann get fired?
I don't think there's a reasonable case to make that he shouldn't be. Unless the US is somehow so cash poor they can't afford to pay two coaches at once -- which seems unlikely -- with Copa America Centenario, a huge South American soccer tournament the US is somehow hosting and participating in this summer, just on the horizon, there wouldn't be any reason not to try and reshuffle the deck.
What about if the US draws?
Another uninspired result could rattle the cage enough to prompt a change, but it's not a sure thing, even if it should be.
Not all ties in soccer are created equally, so there's a pretty broad delta as to how a draw could impact his employment calculus.
Is there any scenario where Klinsmann wins and is let go, especially before that next big tournament?
Probably not. It's hard to imagine a repeat of Friday's performance culminating in anything but an unpleasant result. If the US plays well enough to win and effectively regain control of their World Cup destiny, Klinsmann will probably survive until the rest of the US's World Cup qualifying matches from this round, which won't take place until early September.
What's next if the USMNT wins?
We don't know 100 percent -- tonight's Trinidad and Tobago vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines will have some influence -- but the US would be well positioned to advance to the final stage of World Cup qualifying.
Assuming the US handles their business in their final qualifying matches against the other two teams in their group, which is certainly is no given in light of the past couple months, they'd advance to what's known as "The Hexagonal"(aka "The Hex"). The Hex is a six-team, home-and-away round-robin tournament-within-a-tournament that sees the top three teams qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the fourth-placed team move on to a inter-confederational playoff against the fifth-placed team from Asia.
This World Cup cycle's Hex seems certain to include long time US nemesis Mexico, and potentially could also feature Canada, Costa Rica, and Panama.
Hey wait, what's this under-23 business afterwards? The Olympics? Huh?
Qualification for the Olympic games happens in parallel to early round World Cup qualifying. The US under-23 team -- who will field the two aforementioned young stars -- is in a two-leg playoff against Colombia with the winner on aggregate going to the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. That match takes place immediately after the senior men's national teams tonight in Frisco, TX, at 9:20 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
The two teams are currently level at 1-1 after the first leg, and that road goal is huge for the Americans. If they secure a 0-0 tie or win by any margin on Tuesday, they're off to Brazil. If they don't, that could be yet another referendum on the Klinsmann era. In his role as technical director, Klinsmann ostensibly had a heavy influence on the staff assembly, if not player selection.
That the US is even in the playoff, which is a consolation for the best teams from North/Central America and South America that hadn't already clinched a spot, is considered a failure in and of itself by some. They looked good in their opening qualifying matches, then melted down against Honduras.
So what you're saying is there are outcomes where tonight goes really, really poorly for US Soccer, present and future alike?
Mmmhmm. What a time to be alive.