Disaster averted for the USMNT. A loss would have likely ruled them out of the 2018 World Cup, but in the comfort of Columbus's MAPFRE Stadium, they coasted by Guatemala, winning 4-0.
The US started well, putting early pressure on the rattled Guatemala backline. Using an attack-minded 4-3-3 formation, the top three of Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes and Bobby Wood forced the visiting defense into sloppy mistakes all game. They put the first goal past keeper Paulo Motta in the 12th-minute when a long ball from center-back Geoff Cameron bounced off Zardes into the path of Dempsey who slammed a volley home.
This first goal allowed them to press up even more and put pressure on Guatemala who never really got anything going offensively without Marco Pappa or Carlos Ruiz in the starting lineup.
The USMNT put a second goal on the board in the 35th-minute this time on a set piece. Michael Bradley's picture-perfect ball into the box was headed in by Cameron who was put back into his natural position by Jurgen Klinsmann after playing right-back on Friday. Just seconds after the second half began a third goal was scored this time by Graham Zusi.
Zusi, recently put on the roster by Klinsmann along with Christian Pulisic, found a loose ball in the box and finished it taking the life out of Guatemala and basically sealing a USA victory. Los Chapines enjoyed more possession and looked more threatening in the second half with Ruiz and Pappa entering as substitutes, but never produced anything that really challenged Brad Guzan's goal.
Jozy Altidore, who entered in place of Wood in the 66th-minute, put an exclamation mark on things with a goal in the 89th-minute.
Pulisic subbed on for Zusi a few minutes earlier was cap-tied by the US making sure the 17-year old Borussia Dortmund man didn't end up playing for the Croatian national team. Ethan Finlay, another US substitute, should have scored a goal in the 85th-minute, but it was wrongfully called off for offside by the assistant referee, who, along with the rest of the Jamaican officiating crew was subpar all night.
It was a good win for the USMNT, but it was an expected one, and if they hadn't gotten all three points it would have been absolutely catastrophic. Issues remain for this team, and Klinsmann remains on the hot seat. My feelings about the German manager are mostly unchanged from what they were after Friday night's loss, and will stay that way until we some real improvements.
But at least a serviceable lineup was played. DeAndre Yedlin, Cameron, Steve Birnbaum and Gyasi Zardes all were able to play their favored positions, and each performed well. The 4-3-3 formation worked and, while the midfield could have used someone like Darlington Nagbe or Lee Nguyen, Klinsmann put out a pretty good side.
For right now, it's a good result and puts the US in a position to advance out of this group, barring something disastrous in September against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago.
The #USMNT Starting XI for tonight's #WCQ vs. Guatemala, presented by @LibertyMutual. #USAvGUA #RoadToRio pic.twitter.com/IZqYW97hDQ— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) March 29, 2016
66th-minute Altidore on for Wood
71st-minute Finlay on for Zardes
81st-minute Pulisic on for Zusi
#OFICIAL | XI inicial de Selección de Guatemala.#GUAvsUSA #VamosGuate #GuatemalaPower pic.twitter.com/t0AkeeHSAY— FEDEFUT GUATE (@fedefut_oficial) March 29, 2016
HT Ruiz on for Icuté
HT Pappa on for Cincotta
74th-minute Martinez on for Tinoco