Today is a day to take a collective deep breath. The U.S. Men's National Team got the result it desperately needed. Was it a result both expected and demanded of the USMNT? Absolutely. But the pressure to get that result was unquestionably far higher than it ever needed to be.
Jürgen Klinsmann made five changes to his starting XI and overall, those changes worked, as the U.S. was dominant in a 4-0 victory vs. Guatemala. While we won't pretend that all is now rosy in USMNT-land, we can fairly say that the darkest scenario has been averted. Here's some of what we learned:
Clint Dempsey is still entirely indispensable
At 33 years old, Clint Dempsey has no doubt heard calls for his role and minutes to be phased out, or even eliminated in the name of youth. Last night in Columbus we were reminded just how invaluable he still is to the USMNT. Once again, Dempsey set the tone early in a big game by scoring a big goal.
It was textbook Dempsey: not an artful goal, but built on instinct, opportunism, and sheer grit. He stealthily trailed the play, was in position to pounce, and powered a loose ball past the keeper quickly and decisively. Less than 12 minutes in, the ominous clouds hovering above the team had begun to part.
"How bad do you want it?" Dempsey asked rhetorically afterward. "How bad do you want to go to the World Cup? How bad do you want to continue progressing the game in the States? You've got to put it on your shoulders, man. You've got to represent your country with pride, and I think the boys did that tonight."
And shoulder it he did. That message was delivered to his teammates as he usually does it: with his actions. He may not be wearing the armband, but a motivated Clint Dempsey remains the emotional soul of the USMNT.
Geoff Cameron is the best American center back and it's really not close
Versatility has long been a strength of Geoff Cameron's game. He's a very good right back, and has generally done well there when called upon. Cameron prefers to play centrally, either as a defensive midfielder, or as he did on Tuesday, as a center back. That also happens to be where he most consistently makes the greatest positive impact for the USMNT.
Cameron's influence in the middle of the field was evident early and often. Whether it was his dominance in the air, ability to create turnovers, or quick transitions with a key pass, Cameron's presence was impossible to miss.
You could almost overlook his fourth career USMNT goal and still rave about his performance. Unmarked or not, Cameron's danger on set pieces is could not be ignored either. When he put the U.S. up 2-0 in the 35th minute, the team was well on its way.
Certainly there are numerous good options in central defense: John Brooks, Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez all offer varying degrees of confidence and experience. Surely it is a luxury that Geoff can so adeptly slot in elsewhere when needed. But any *first choice* lineup should have Geoff Cameron at center back.
DEFCON 1 is over; USMNT will (soon) advance
The danger was real. A loss on Tuesday in Columbus would have all but ended the USMNT's 2018 World Cup plans. That's no hyperbole; qualification at that point would have required some unlikely outside help.
And after Friday night's debacle in Guatemala City, it didn't take a wild imagination to envision losing to the same team again four days later.
Thankfully, the fortress that is Columbus Crew Stadium held strong once again. The United States has still never lost there, improving to an 8-0-3 mark in the stadium's 17-year history. With one result, a smooth path to the Hex is now restored.
When World Cup Qualifying resumes in September, the USMNT could even advance with a round to spare. If the United States and Trinidad & Tobago each win their respective games, both will clinch advancement. The focus now shifts to Copa America, but that September visit to St. Vincent just got a heckuva lot more comfortable.