I'll be honest, despite the U.S.'s poor play against CONCACAF opponents as of late, I was optimistic heading into Friday night's qualifier against Guatemala. Maybe we wouldn't win, but there was no way we were coming away with less than a draw, right? This is the same Guatemala that we beat 4-0 last July after all. And now here we are, literally backs to the wall, essentially needing to win out just to make it to the hexagonal stage. Yes, this isn't that far from where we were four years ago when we drew in Guatemala and lost in Jamaica at this same stage, but this feels more dire, doesn't it? Anyhow, I really wanted to blame Klinsmann, and solely Klinsmann, immediately following the loss. But while the coach is ultimately responsible, the players bear a significant piece of the burden. After all, some better finishing by Clint Dempsey, Alejandro Bedoya and others, and this isn't a 2-0 game. Some better defense on a corner (Mix Diskerud) and some better communication along the back line (everybody) and we don't concede two goals. Still, I have questions:
1) Is Clint Dempsey still deserving a spot in the USMNT Starting XI? The active leading scorer for the U.S. has struggled out of the gates in 2016. Yes, he notched a Champions League brace against Santos Laguna, but in three MLS appearances (all losses), he's put just one shot on target out of 12, and has no goals, and no assists, despite playing alongside Paraguayan International Nelson Valdez, and one of the U.S.'s top striking prospects in Jordan Morris. I know it's a small sample size, but coupled with his poor showing against Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup last fall, you have to wonder if he's not on the decline. Don't get me wrong, I think Dempsey should have been on the team, but maybe given his recent struggles, and lack of fitness (he was gassed by the end), would it not have served the team better to start someone else and be able to bring Deuce in off the bench for a late spark?
2) Speaking of that someone else, if Jozy Altidore was healthy enough to play, shouldn't he have gotten the start? Even if Jozy only went the opening 45 minutes, don't you want your best striker on the field in a big game like this? Plus, if you lose him to injury or whatever, don't you want that to happen when you have players in reserve, and not after you use him as your last substitute?
3) Why not start Yedlin in the back? DeAndre Yedlin brings blazing speed to the table, but his offensive game (speed aside) is lacking. I get that he's exciting and adds a spark, but his contributions on the attack aren't flashes of brilliance so much as they are a testament to his natural athleticism. I just feel like we had better attacking options in the midfield (Lee Nguyen, Darlington Nagbe, Gyasi Zardes) that would have brought more offense to the table while Yedlin could've been better utilized at the back.
4) Why not start Geoff Cameron in the middle? Cameron started both of the two previous World Cup Qualifiers in the center alongside Matt Besler and we allowed one goal. I understand Besler was hurt in training, but why not start Cameron alongside Gonzalez with Orozco on the right? This is how we lined up Cameron and Orozco against Trinidad and Tobago and we pitched a road shutout. This tinkering with a lineup that was already working seemed unnecessary.
5) Why not start Kyle Beckerman? Beckman's there for his toughness and prowess as a defensive midfielder, right? Two things that make sense to have when playing in Central America. Mix Diskerud is not a defensive midfielder. I love the guy, but his strengths are in going forward. Look how high up the field he's been playing for his club team and it's been working great. If Klinsmann is insistent on playing Bradley and Diskerud together, why not flip them and let Diskerud play up high and Bradley as more of a holding midfielder? Speaking of Bradley...
6) Why don't we play Bradley in the position he plays for his club team? Bradley seems far more comfortable playing deep with Toronto, but for whatever reason, Klinsmann insists on putting him as the attacking central midfielder. This would make sense if we didn't have anyone else, but we have Darlington Nagbe. We have Lee Nguyen. It's just frustrating seeing players consistently played out of position (Yedlin, Johnson, Bradley, Diskerud, Cameron, etc). There's a saying about putting square pegs in round holes that would seem to apply here...
7) Why no Villafaña? I'm still bitter about Jorge Villafaña's omission from the squad. Not that Edgar Castillo had a bad game, but I think Villafaña would have had a better one.
8) Why Tim Howard? I don't want to put this loss on the Secretary of Defense, but Howard's not the keeper he was four years ago when he single handedly (perhaps more accurately he used both hands and feet) kept us in our final World Cup match against Belgium. Since then, he's lost his job with Everton and has committed to a return to MLS with the Colorado Rapids. Bottom line, he hasn't been playing. Brad Guzan has. Tim Howard isn't going to be our keeper in the next World Cup (if we even make it), so why continue to play games about Guzan vs Howard? If it's not Guzan, let's figure out who it is, and get them in net.
9) How short is Klinsmann's leash? Reports I've read suggest Klinsmann has top cover, but for how long? Should we fail to beat Guatemala or fail to reach the hexagonal, shouldn't that be condemning criteria? Is it possible that Klinsmann's grasp of the game fits in Europe (wins over Italy, Germany, Netherlands, etc), but not in CONCACAF (see Gold Cup 2015)? Do the players get up for games for Klinsmann? We've seen a string of uninspired performances, and while that should also fall on the players, doesn't a good coach figure out ways to motivate? Maybe Klinsmann's true talent isn't coaching, but rather to identify talent. He's brought players like Miguel Ibarra, Brandon Vincent, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood and others into the fold, that most U.S. coaches would surely miss. But he isn't winning, which ultimately coaches are going to be judged on, especially when the talent is there.
10) How much trouble are we in? We'll find out Tuesday, but another uninspired performance against the Guatemalans could make this a disappointing World Cup cycle for fans of the red, white and blue.