It appears that Jurgen Klinsmann will live to fight another day.
After a disappointing, to put it kindly, start to World Cup qualifying, the United States were able to right the ship with a 4-0 victory over Guatemala on Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio (the scoreline likely should have read 5-0, but we’ll get to that later). For Klinsmann’s sake, as well as the sanity of every U.S. soccer fan, the team got the result it not only wanted, but needed.
With the win, the U.S. moves into second place in its qualifying group. Trinidad and Tobago currently sit atop the table with 10 points, while the U.S. and its seven points are now in a favorable position to reach the last round of qualifying. Guatemala, who had just beaten the Americans 2-0 at home last week, drops into third place with six points, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines bring up the rear with zero points.
To sum up the qualifying process, there are 12 CONCACAF teams with their World Cup hopes still intact. Each country will play a total of six matches in this stage (four of which have already been completed). The top two from each of the three groups will move onto the fifth and final qualifying round, known as “the hex” (short for hexagonal, as there are six teams involved).
After playing a double-round-robin, the top three teams will clinch a spot in the 2018 World Cup, with the fourth place team facing the winner of the Oceania qualifying tournament in a two-legged playoff.
Basically, finish in the top half of teams in both of these rounds and you’re in.
After qualifying for each of the past seven World Cups, the average American has seemingly come to expect an almost exact quality of US soccer. Tune in every four years to support the team in its three group games, and maybe a round of 16 game in a good year.
But for those that follow the sport a bit closer, it’s almost never that simple. Take this year, for instance.
Thanks to the United States’ defeat last week, a loss to Guatemala in Columbus would put its World Cup hopes at about the same percentage as the portion of the U.S. population that does not find this brand new Scott Sterling video absolutely hilarious. Essentially zero. If you haven’t seen the original, please do yourself a favor and enjoy it right here.
Instead, the Yanks played one of their most complete games in quite some time, as they should against teams like Guatemala if they want any chance to make a deep run in Russia two years from now. In a way, Tuesday’s match was an oversimplification of the last several years of U.S. soccer–Clint Dempsey got his name in the score book, Michael Bradley managed the game from the midfield, and DeAndre Yedlin was fast.
USMNT controlled the match throughout, and after Dempsey eased some of the pressure with his 12th-minute goal, it felt as though Guatemala had already lost its shot to come away from Columbus with any points.
Geoff Cameron’s header off of Bradley’s free kick put the U.S. up 2-0 in the 35th minute, queuing a chorus of loud yet inappropriate “dos-a-cero” chants (this was Columbus, Ohio, but the opponent was not Mexico). In addition to his goal, Cameron played a huge part in completely shutting down a Guatemalan attack that seldom caused goalkeeper Brad Guzan any real trouble.
The Americans added to the lead less than 20 seconds into the second half, thanks to Gyasi Zardes’ innate ability to, in words I wish I could take credit for, be so good at being bad. His poor touch off of a pass from Yedlin wound up at the foot of Graham Zusi thanks to a fortuitous bounce, and Zusi was able to put the finishing touch on the goal.
The final goal of the match came from the right foot of Jozy Altidore, though Dempsey created the chance with some help from Guatemala’s Rodrigo Saravia. You can see that goal, as well as the three others, here.
The second-loudest cheer of the night came in the 71st minute, when Columbus Crew SC midfielder Ethan Finlay was subbed on for Zardes. The loudest moment? When Finlay scored this goal that was inexplicably ruled offside, ripping away (in front of his home fans, mind you) what would have been his first career goal for the national team.
While the United State’s U-23 team may have failed to qualify for the upcoming Summer Olympics by losing to Colombia 2-1 (3-2 on aggregate) on Tuesday, a player that could have potentially helped that team–or even still been a member of the U-18 team at that–made his debut at the senior level.
17-year-old Christian Pulisic came on for Zusi in the 81st minute, earning his first cap for the senior team and making my life feel like quite the disappointment comparatively. He was on the wrong end of Dempsey’s selflessness on Altidore’s goal, as Dempsey could have easily played the ball to an unmarked Pulisic but instead chose the equally open Altidore.
With the way that the schedule works out, this win looms even larger than it may seem. The next qualifying match for USMNT will be on September 2 against the Grenadines before it wraps up with Trinidad & Tobago at home four days later.
It’s quite possible that with a loss on Tuesday, Klinsmann may not have made it to June’s Copa America Centenario. And depending on the US’ success in that tournament, it could have been a long two-plus months waiting for that Grenadines match.
Though not a soul will say that the Stars and Stripes have solved every problem, the situation appears much more stable now than it did just a few days ago. The team showed that it may be out of its funk and that reaching Russia in 2018 is once again attainable, and progressing deep into the tournament should still be a possibility when that time comes.
Perhaps best of all, the U.S. discovered that all it has to do is continue to wear this beautiful kit…
…and use these jerseys…
…as the kindling for either a team-building bonfire, or for all of the #fireKlinsmann backers out there, to heat up that manager’s seat at the next available opportunity.