The United States Men's National Team return home on Tuesday night (7 p.m. ET, ESPN2) to face Guatemala once again in search of revenge and a necessary three points. The U.S. were embarrassed on Friday night by a team they hadn't lost to since 1988. Now they face the possibility of not finishing in the top two of their current qualifying group and missing out on the Hex.
As crazy as this sounds, a loss on Tuesday to the same team that beat them four days prior and it becomes probable. Anything less than three points in this match will have Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF, and anyone associated with the USMNT sweating bullets for the next 8 months. It's clear something has to change, but what? Here's what you should be watching for:
W (2-0) - USA - WCQ
W (1-0) - El Salvador - Friendly
W (3-1) - Honduras - Friendly
W (4-0) - St. Vincent & the Grenadines - WCQ
L (1-2) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
L (0-2) - Guatemala - WCQ
W (1-0) - Canada - Friendly
W (3-2) - Iceland - Friendly
D (0-0) - Trinidad & Tobago - WCQ
W (6-1) - St. Vincent & the Grenadines - WCQ
Opponent's Player to Watch
The USMNT created several chances to pull a goal back against Guatemala on Friday after they fell down 2-0. However, their goalkeeper, Paulo Motta, had the match of his life to keep a clean sheet against the Americans. If the Yanks hope to come away from MAPFRE Stadium with three points, they'll have to figure out a way to beat the red-hot goalkeeper. The 33-year-old had at least five clutch saves, denying Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya twice and made a miraculous kick save against Jozy Altidore late on. When goalkeepers are in the zone they can be tough to beat, the USMNT will have to find a way to do that to get the victory they desperately need.
Darlington Nagbe has been USMNT eligible since September. He's been capped five times and has yet to be named to a starting lineup by Klinsmann. That has to change on Tuesday night. When Nagbe was called upon to replace Mix Diskerud at halftime of Guatemala's win, he lit a fire under the USA's attack. Within seven minutes of coming on he had already created two clear cut chances for his team that were wasted. Here's a clip of one of those where he single-handedly penetrates the Guatemalan back line and creates a scoring opportunity.
Nagbe is the only player in the USMNT player pool who can create a chance by himself. pic.twitter.com/C9alOtBBEM— Rob Usry (@RobUsry) March 27, 2016
In hindsight that tweet is inaccurate. Fabian Johnson also possesses the capability to create a chance on his own, but he seems to be a lost cause for this camp with an injury. It's time for Jurgen to put his most effective players on the field at the start of the match instead of waiting until it's too late. Nagbe is consistently one of the best players in MLS and has done nothing with the USMNT to make anyone think he can't replicate it with the national team. He must be given the chance to put his stamp on the match from minute one and that has to come on Tuesday against Guatemala.
John Brooks is gone home with an injury. Matt Besler might have a concussion. Geoff Cameron is being played as a right back. That leaves Omar Gonzalez, Michael Orozco, Ventura Alvarado, and Steve Birnbaum left to pick up the pieces. Not a very illustrious group. Orozco and Alvarado have about as much playing time in Liga MX this season as I do. Meanwhile, Steve Birnbaum has only played in a couple of January camp matches.
Orozco was called on to partner Gonzalez in Guatemala and it didn't work out too well. Who will get the call in Columbus? As we know, Klinsmann doesn't care about consistency or chemistry. A shot in the dark guess is that he gives Birnbaum a chance to prove himself in a big match. It's not our preference as it makes a lot more sense to move Cameron to CB and Yedlin back to RB, but sense seems to be in short supply these days.
We Can Haz Goal?
The USA have played three World Cup qualifying matches against CONCACAF competition. In two of those matches they've failed to score a goal. Clint Dempsey is missing his chances. Bobby Wood is trying his best, but can't seem to get on the end of any chances. Jozy Altidore is recovering from a hamstring injury. Where in the world are the goals going to come from?
We can only hope that some home cooking will be exactly what our strikers need. Dempsey started out the season hot with Seattle, scoring two goals in the CCL, but since then he's done nothing but blow chances for both club and country. The tide has to start turning for him and the other strikers or we could be looking at a doomsday scenario in regards to World Cup qualification for the USMNT.
Cap-tying The Chosen One (Hyperbole Warning)
Christian Pulisic has been called upon by Jurgen Klinsmann in his time of need. The prince that was promised has finally been delivered to us. The question isn't will he be the greatest player American soccer has ever seen. The question is, will cloning technology advance quick enough for us to have 23 of him? Azor Ahai has come to save the kingdom from ruin.
But seriously, hopefully he gets 10-15 minutes so we can put those Croatia worries to bed.
Here's who we'd like to see start against Guatemala: