There's no positive spin to put on this result.
On Friday night, the United States lost a competitive soccer match to Guatemala for the first time since the Reagan Administration, a streak that had lasted 21 games over a 28-year span. An ugly start saw the U.S. trailing 2-0 after 15 minutes in one of its poorest played halves in recent memory.
Away qualifiers in Central America are notoriously challenging; this is well established. But a draw was always the minimum acceptable result in Guatemala. To drop all three points, to get shut out, and to play so tactically poor is beyond alarming. It's entirely unacceptable for a United States team. Losses vs. CONCACAF opponents are mounting, and Jurgen Klinsmann is struggling to stop it.
Here's what we learned:
Klinsmann continues to outsmart himself
There's tinkering, and then there are Jurgen Klinsmann's lineups. Playing guys out of position has been a hallmark of the Klinsmann era. You cannot predict his Starting XI, but you can predict it will only make sense to one person: Jurgen Klinsmann.
Let's review the latest selection, shall we?
Alejandro Bedoya is enjoying one of his best club seasons, excelling in his preferred central midfield role for Nantes, and occasionally on the right. Last night, naturally, he started on the left.
DeAndre Yedlin's entire club career has been as a right back. He's locked down a starting role as a right back in the Premier League. Last night, of course, he started at right midfield.
Geoff Cameron's best and preferred position is in the middle. He's excelled at center back of late for Stoke City. He's also comfortable in a CDM role. Last night he started at right back.
Michael Orozco has played zero LigaMX minutes for Tijuana's since November. ZERO. He's instead been featuring for the Xolos' U20 side on occasion. Last night he started at center back. For the United States. In a World Cup Qualifying match. It's true, there are even pictures to prove it.
Mix Diskerud... ah, we'll get to that in a minute.
Combine all this with a starting left back in Edgar Castillo who hadn't been called up in two years, and it's no small wonder that poor communication and unfamiliarity across the entire defense were significant problems.
When the majority of your starting lineup is asked to perform a job it is not accustomed to doing, you're no longer thinking outside the box. You're dousing the box in gasoline, flicking a match, then acting surprised when it burns.
Mix underneath Bradley doesn't work and needs to stop
The most glaring tactical failure of the night was in central midfield. We've seen this combination trotted out before. It didn't work then, and it doesn't work now. Mix Diskerud, no matter how much Jurgen wants it to be so, is not comfortable playing a holding midfield role. Certainly not well enough to provide sufficient cover behind an advanced Michael Bradley. Both are more naturally suited to play the opposite role from the one they were asked to play vs. Guatemala. So naturally, they kept getting in each other's spaces, and the midfield was an utter mess.
Of course, many will contend that Mix shouldn't be on this roster at all; and that's a fair, but altogether different argument. But it's hard to blame Mix for failing at a job when he was clearly put in position to fail. By the time he was mercifully subbed off at halftime, the damage was done.
Things just got real in Group C
In an alternate universe, the USMNT picked up three points in Guatemala last night, and are on track to clinch a spot in the Hex with a win on Tuesday with two games to spare.
We are not living in that particular universe.
The new reality is that while the U.S. are still strong mathematical favorites to advance, the task just got way more complicated and will continue into next Fall. On paper, the U.S. looks in good shape with home games remaining vs. Guatemala and Trinidad & Tobago sandwiched around a trip to minnows St. Vincent & The Grenadines.
But the frightening flip side of that paper reveals that a loss to Guatemala on Tuesday night in Columbus would represent USMNT Armageddon. The Yanks' World Cup hopes wouldn't officially die in that scenario, but you should probably have a priest standing by.
Losing at home to Guatemala? Unfathomable in that alternate universe. But after what we witnessed Friday night, it's not quite so difficult to imagine in this world anymore. Things need to get fixed, and fixed quickly.