The United States thrashed Guatemala on Tuesday, battering them to the tune of a 4-0 win in Columbus. It was a much-needed result, a reprieve from the misery of their loss to Guatemala last Friday. Jurgen Klinsmann was doubtlessly happy with the win under the circumstances, but what did the match really do for the USMNT?
There were definitely a lot of positive things for the national team to take away from this match, lessons to learn and build from. At the point in their development the USMNT appears to be at, that's an invaluable thing, but only if they learn those lessons. They need to recognize some of the flaws they still display, the things they've gotten away with and can't rely on going their way in the future.
What the USMNT can build on
- Using players in their actual positions and roles: It's amazing how much of an impact something so seemingly simple as playing guys where they're best at playing can have. Just that easy measure has a remarkable domino effect. Guys who don't have to overthink their role or worry about covering the guy next to them when he makes a mistake play, can react and play more naturally. That allows instinctual play and a greater work rate, just like we saw against Guatemala.
- Using a shape that suits the team: Shifting from that bizarre, quasi-4-4-2 that the USMNT used on Friday to a 4-3-3 had a dramatic effect on the side. It was much more balanced approach for the team, one well-suited to most of the talents on the pitch. Especially in central midfield, where adding a third man allowed Michael Bradley to play more freely without sacrificing anything in any phase of the game, which in turn helped the team as a whole play better.
- Utilizing the high press: Too often over the last few years, including last Friday, we've seen the United States forego using the high press even against teams that were practically begging for them to press high and disrupt their defenses.This time they did it, and what do you know! It worked! Especially when the USMNT is running with high-energy forwards like Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes, pressuring their opponent high up the pitch is a natural extension of their style. It helps shorten the field on attack, and being able to create mistakes to exploit is always a plus.
What they can't count on again
- A defense as bad as Guatemala's: Make no mistake, while the USMNT played well, the Guatemala defense was absolute garbage. So was their midfield, for that matter. They made mistake after mistake, both on the ball and in who and how they chose to mark when the US had the ball. Even a passably decent defense would easily have prevented at least two if not three of the Americans' goals, so expecting an emphatic final result like this against better teams isn't realistic without a better overall performance.
- Not getting punished for poor first touches: Speaking of needing to improve their overall performance, can we talk about the USMNT's collective first touch for a minute? It stank. Badly. Missed touches by Zardes inadvertently set up two of the goals, but for the rest of the match his stone feet were knocking balls anywhere but where he needed them to be. He was far from alone, too -- all of Michael Bradley, Graham Zusi, Bobby Wood and Edgar Castillo had numerous shocking touches. Most teams would punish that far more thoroughly than Guatemala were capable of on Tuesday night.
- Not getting punished by Kyle Beckerman's lack of pace: He can barely move anymore. Guatemala lacked the kind of midfielders to exploit this, but most teams in CONCACAF have them. Beckerman's been a great servant to the national team and he certainly came in handy in this match, but his time is done. Move Geoff Cameron into midfield -- he plays very well there for Stoke City whenever they need him to, so there's no "out of position" issue -- and start John Brooks in defense. Use a mix of Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler and Steve Birnbaum as his partner, and you've got a couple of big holes in the side sorted out.
The result was positive and a good sign for the USMNT considering last week's match, but there's still more work to be done. Klinsmann and company cannot afford to rest on their laurels now -- their World Cup qualification standing is in better shape now than before this match, but a place in the Hex isn't guaranteed yet, nor is getting through it. How the USMNT performs in the Copa America Centenario this summer will be a good measuring stick for how far they've come. If they've learned their lessons from this international break, we could get some more encouraging signs -- and if they didn't, then our frustration may just be beginning.