Klinsmann resorts to pragmatism; U.S. responds with 4-0 win vs. Guatemala
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Three quick thoughts after the U.S. trounced Guatemala 4-0 in its high-stakes World Cup qualifier Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium. First-half goals by Clint Dempsey and Geoff Cameron paced the Americans, and Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore added strikes in the second half:
1. Dempsey's opener sets the tone
In this must-win game, the most important in recent memory for the United States, Dempsey's 12th-minute strike went a long way toward settling the Americans' nerves. Make no mistake, though: The hosts were clearly up for this one.
Embattled U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made five changes to the lineup that had been embarrassed 2-0 in Guatemala City on Friday, and his charges came out flying from the opening whistle. The Americans started the game with the urgency that was missing last week, pressing Los Chapines all over the field, just as Klinsmann and captain Michael Bradley, on the eve of this contest, had said they needed to do.
The U.S. came out in an aggressive, attacking 4-3-3 formation, with Brazil 2014 veteran Graham Zusi -- who just Sunday was added to the roster -- starting alongside Bradley behind forwards Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes and in front of defensive midfielder Kyle Beckerman. And when Cameron nodded home Bradley's pinpoint free kick 10 minutes before halftime, there was no doubt that the U.S. would take all three points.
2. Klinsmann resorted to pragmatism . . . again
The German coach came into the tilt under more pressure than at any time during his 4½-year tenure at the helm following the debacle in Central America that put the United States' hopes of reaching the final round of CONCACAF qualifying, let alone Russia 2018, in peril. It wasn't just the flat road performance that left Klinsmann under scrutiny, or the plane towing a "FIRE KLINSMANN" banner circling overhead before Tuesday's kickoff.
After all, he had made several odd lineup choices at Estadio Mateo Flores, including giving Michael Orozco, who has not made a league appearance for Mexico's Club Tijuana this year, the start at center-back ahead of Cameron, who had lined up in the middle (and who had been the most consistent U.S. defender) in his previous four international games. But as Klinsmann has done on other occasions when his back was against the wall, he turned practical.
He slid Cameron into the center from the right-back spot he played last week. He moved DeAndre Yedlin, who has established himself as Premier League Sunderland's starting right-back this season, from the right-wing to the defensive line. And he reinserted the reliable Beckerman, whom he inexplicably left out in favor of defensive lightweight Mix Diskerud last week.
The changes paid off. So did the risks Klinsmann took this time, namely starting Zusi and defender Steve Birnbaum, who helped his side keep a clean sheet in his World Cup qualifying debut.
3. Zusi took his chance
The crafty Sporting Kansas City midfielder's international future appeared bleak when he was omitted from Klinsmann's final three rosters of 2015, plus the MLS-heavy January camp. So it was no shock that Zusi was left off the coach's 26-man squad for these games against Guatemala despite an impressive start to the domestic season with SKC. But the 2014 World Cup veteran joined the group on Sunday after Fabian Johnson (plus center-backs Matt Besler and John Brooks) were sent back to their clubs with injuries, and Zusi was thrust right into Klinsmann's lineup in the Ohio capital.
The midfielder's breakout game with the national team had come on the same field almost four years ago, when the Americans found themselves in a similar situation against Jamaica after losing to the Reggae Boyz in Kingston four days earlier. Zusi was sharp again on Tuesday, and his well-taken goal less than a minute into the second half more than justified his somewhat surprising inclusion ahead of Darlington Nagbe and Lee Nguyen. It also considerably increased the 29-year-old's odds of making Klinsmann's roster for this summer's Copa America Centenario.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.