Top Stories

USMNT 4, Guatemala 0: The SBI Breakdown

photo by Jim Brown/USA Today Sports


The scoreline may have been complimentary, but the performance was far from flattering.

The U.S. Men’s National Team played its final tuneup before the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup last Friday, picking up a 4-0 victory over Guatemala at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee. The blowout scoreline indicated that the U.S. cruised to victory, but head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players confessed in the aftermath that improvements needed to be made.

It is hard to argue otherwise. Whether it was in possession, in the final third, or defensively, the Americans were far from sharp against Guatemala, especially in the first half. A better opponent would have punished the U.S. given some of the quality looks in front of goal that the Guatemalans had, and the Americans know that it must avoid repeating that if they are to be kings of the region again this summer.

That said, it was not all bad vs. Guatemala. Some players were real bright spots with their individual performances, and there were also other positives for the Americans to build on as they gear up for Tuesday’s Gold Cup opener against a tougher Honduras side.

Here is what SBI is mulling over after the U.S.’s 4-0 rout of Guatemala:


It may have been because of his recent lack of playing time or the fact that he’s adjusting to a new role, but Clint Dempsey looked rusty in his first competitive minutes since his U.S. Open Cup fiasco.

Dempsey scored with a panenka in the second half that showed he’s still playing with his trademark gutsiness. Still, something seemed amiss about Dempsey. He failed to connect with forward partner Jozy Altidore for much of the game – something head coach Jurgen Klinsmann pointed out afterwards – never really threatened from the run of play, and did not have the same type of confidence about him that is normally seen in matches.

It could be that Dempsey is working off some rust after spending nearly two-and-a-half weeks on the sidelines. It could be that he is adapting to what is needed of him tactically now that he’s been asked to play up top. Or it could be that he is still rebounding from the recent incident that saw him suspended, criticized, and stripped of the U.S. captaincy.

Whatever it is, Dempsey will need to be better during the Gold Cup for the U.S. to have a shot at repeating, and his performances throughout the tournament will be something to keep an eye on.


The Americans had a dreadful first half, one that saw them fail to convert a penalty kick and only claim a lead through a disastrous own goal.

The USMNT’s fortunes picked up in the second half, however, due in large part to the performance of Gyasi Zardes.

Zardes came off the bench to replace a quiet Graham Zusi at halftime, and immediately made an impact as a left midfielder. His speed, confidence on the ball, and decision-making all helped the Americans improve in possession, and gave them another threatening weapon in the attack while starting forwards Altidore and Dempsey struggled to test the Guatemala back line.

The 23-year-old Zardes also capped his strong showing with a simple but great assist, playing a nifty one-two pass with Dempsey before racing down the left and setting up fellow substitute Chris Wondolowski.

Zardes’ development has been a real plus for the U.S. so far in 2015, and his overall play has made a good case for why he should be include in the starting lineup come Tuesday.


One area that was of real concern in the 4-0 win over Guatemala was the defensive showing. That might be odd to consider given that the back line posted a shutout, but the clean-sheet only happened after Guatemala put on a display of horrendous finishing that still baffles the mind.

The U.S. back line was exposed on a number of plays against Guatemala, and goalkeeper Brad Guzan had to come up with timely interventions on a number of play. The defensive frailties could be chalked up to the U.S.’s inability to sustain possession for stretches, but the back four also did not do a tremendous job of stymieing Carlos Ruiz, Marco Pappa, and the rest of the Guatemalan attack.

There is no denying that there is talent in the U.S. defense, especially with Fabian Johnson looking like he’s moving to left back, but the group has not played together much. Omar Gonzalez only recently returned to the fold, and does not have many repetitions with fellow centerback John Brooks. Timmy Chandler has been starting recent matches, but there are still moments in games in which he shows that he’s not on the same page as the rest of the back line.

Solid defenses are built on good individual play and understanding as a unit, but the U.S.’s back four just does not have much chemistry right now. The lack of familiarity is not something that can be fixed overnight, and it is likely that the American defenders experience growing pains at the Gold Cup.

The U.S. just has to hope that they are not too severe. Otherwise, the attack is going to have to carry a large load in order to win the tournament.


DeAndre Yedlin sure did not look like a player who had seen precious few minutes at the club level in recent months.

Yedlin was one of the most impressive U.S. players from start to finish on Friday, as he routinely was involved in dangerous attacks. Playing as a right midfielder once again under Klinsmann, Yedlin used his speed and aggressiveness to take on defenders and whip in crosses. The Tottenham youngster’s service and end product was not always great, but it was still the only way the Americans repeatedly threatened Guatemala in the fist half.

Much has been said about how Yedlin’s lack of playing time for his club – he saw just 11 minutes for Spurs since joining in January – will affect his form for country. Yet Yedlin looked plenty capable of making an impact vs. Guatemala, and showed that he will be able to contribute at this Gold Cup. The 21-year-old Yedlin likely will not be a starter once the tournament commences, but he can continue to be a super-sub.


Chris Wondolowski might not be a fan favorite among U.S. supporters., but he should still be a key figure in the Americans’ Gold Cup campaign.

Wondolowski once again did what he does best by scoring against Guatemala in the 86th minute on Friday. The goal was a rather easy finish after some good work down the left from Zardes, but it was another case of Wondolowski putting himself in a good position.

While there is a valid argument for why Wondolowski should not be included on U.S. rosters against more talented opponents, he has proven time and again that he can get the job done against CONCACAF opponents. His tireless runs and knack for finding the right spots in the penalty area give the more undisciplined CONCACAF defenders fits, and will be useful late in matches in the Gold Cup.

Some might prefer Aron Johannsson as the primary forward off the bench, but Wondolowski is more experienced in the type of games the U.S. will face this summer. In fact, nine of Wondolowski’s 10 international goals to date have come against teams from the region.

That scoring output is something Klinsmann should not and will not ignore. No matter how much it might go against public opinion.


    • perhaps because Mix is a CAM, whom JK is trying to expand his game. JK asked him to get better defensively not so that he can be a sole CDM but to have the option, if he’s not a pure CAM, to play as a CM (for example in a 433 with KB as CDM and MB and Mix both as CMs)

  1. Regarding Yedlin and Zardes, speed is not a bad thing to have and can be essential when the game opens up. If we face bunkered defenses with 9 or 10 defenders in the PA, speed is not that useful (you can’t out run womeone who is already there). I expect in the group stage the US will face pretty much teams that refuse to get forward and play soccer. I can’t blame them, most of them do not expect to beat the US that way, but they do hope to prevent a blowout loss which might limit their chance to advance. Of the two, Zardes seems, right now, to have the better touch and better ability to make good passes in tight spots.

    The defense needs more time together like Franco says. They might not have that much to do except face occasional counters, I wish JK had settled on a group of 4 or 5 to use rather than selecting from 8 or 9 backs in the last few games. I hope they face enough pressure in the group play that they are ready for more challenging games with Costa Rica and Mexico.

    Like Franco, I think Wondo will be useful finding space in the packed defenses the US will likely face. In games where the bunker and counter is working for our opponents, he will be a better choice than any other forward. (Dribbling in a crowded penalty area is more likely to end up in a lost possession than anything else and referees generally seem to think Jozy commits fouls rather than suffers them so I expect he may spend a lot of time wondering what he did while the opponents take a free kick. That and in general the US seldom catches a break with CONCACAF referees.

  2. for a player who gets criticized for having an “awful first touch”, all three of Zardes’ touches on the Wondo goal were brilliant.

  3. random 2 cents for perspective, on Chandler’s goal, Zardes was wide open on the left and when Chandler scored Zardes put his head down and walked back rather than “running over to celebrate”; yet no one has a problem (nor should they).

    I only mention this because a few days ago people were criticizing a ST for not “running over to celebrate” after a teammates goal–where the ST didn’t get a pass he wanted, implying that the ST had a bad attitude and didn’t deserve to start anymore…… (context: this was brought up in a discussion over his pre-game anthem ritual)

    yet some people don’t believe said ST is over-criticized…

    that is all

    • Maybe he should have, true, Zardes is productive and battled unselfishly to feed Wondo the ball for a goal…..rather than trying to selfishly take or force the shot himself, and indeed went over to celebrated with him. So he’s a team player…..unlike “A_t____e” who can’t score, assist or support his teammates

  4. Zusi was just terrible, and I’m a Zusi fan. What happened to him? It’s crazy how mercurial soccer form can be.
    Dempsey — heresy TK — I’m getting close to being done with. Those agonizingly SLOW stepovers, the soft foul flopping. He undeniably has a killer instinct that almost no one else on the MNT has — I’d say, actually, that NO one has. But…is he not a good fit? Does his skill only emerge when surrounded by better players?

    Also — further heresy: Tim Ream looked good. And he looked like he lifted a LOT of weights and got kind of nasty. Plus, how weird is it to see the USMNT play it out of the back?

    Does anyone else think that Guzan is on the decline?

    • Tim Ream did look good. I forget where I read it, but someone pointed out that he’s followed the JK ‘stay in europe’ line exactly, and done very well. He’s a good passer and an intelligent defender. I’m sure in 3 years we’ll be looking at some combination of Omar, Brooks, Alvarado, but think they could learn a few things from Ream.

    • Zusi is one of those guys that has solid B-level tools across the board. He’s solid technically but he’s not an elite technician. He’s intelligent but he’s not a master tactician or a guy who’s going to pull you apart with a laser through-ball like Pirlo or even Michael Bradley can. He’s quick but not super-fast over a long run and isn’t going to blow past you. He’s just a solid, meat-and-potatoes guy, can play CM or the wing, and do a workmanlike if not spectacular job.

      What got Zusi to the USMNT – and even into the starting lineup at times – was a crazy work ethic on the field. He wasn’t the iron man Michael Bradley was but he’d work his tail off and hustle and chase everything and fight and scrap for every ball. The Brits hung the tag “America’s James Millner” on him and it definitely suited him. Then.

      I just don’t see that from him any more. After the World Cup, it’s worth noting he signed a big DP contract with SKC, and exactly like his buddy Besler, he looked like he got…complacent. He doesn’t run or hustle or chase quite as hard, doesn’t seem to need it quite as much. He got his big payday, has some career stability…and the edge looks like it’s off his game. He’s still a very good player for SKC but at the end of the day at the International level he’s just some guy with B-level physical tools and technical ability who distinguished himself with his hustle, and when he stopped running through brick walls, he stopped really even being serviceable.

      Now, Zusi didn’t make the mistake Besler did – which was chirp back at Klinsmann on how offseason fitness just wasn’t that important (you might notice Klinsmann hasn’t called Besler back in since) – but he is showing the same complacency.

      And complacency is the thing that seems to get you in Klinsmann’s doghouse faster than anything. If Zusi doesn’t start busting it again I think he’s done with the USMNT after the Gold Cup. Too many hungry guys in the pool.

      Just my take, anyhow. But if he doesn’t show back up I think Klinsi will probably add him to the Landon Donovans/Benny Feilhaber/Matt Besler collection – guys who got dropped because they didn’t bust their tails quite hard enough to suit Klinsmann. For what it’s worth.

  5. Whereas I agree that Dempsey wasn’t that effective, I thought Jozy was also ineffective. The first goal came from a great cross from Yedlin, but Jozy actually backs away from the ball, instead of going up head it home. And, if our starting forward takes PK’s like that then we need to use a different starter.

    • re: the first goal, I noticed it looked like that form one of the camera angles but if you watch a closer camera angle (i saw one somewhere i can’t remember) you can see that the ball wasn’t really on it’s way to Jozy, regardless of whether he backed away or not.

      re: the PK, at least 7 out of 10 times that balls in, the gk guessed the right way. Jozy hit it hard an low, the hardest place to save it but with a good guess a gk is still capable of stopping that. I’ve seen LD, Clint, and many other better players have the same outcome. what coaches tell players is to just kick it low and hard, which is exactly what he did. if the GK guesses the other way, then it’s an easy goal. I’m not saying i’m happy it was saved, but it wasn’t a terrible PK. to see terrible PKs go watch the u20 WC game against Serbia… lol

      • I saw Jozy not make a run for an easy goal and miss a PK. I can’t think of anything else he did.

        I’d like to see AJ with Zardes.

      • if that’s all you saw then, at the very least, you also saw him draw a PK…

      • and to clarify: missing a PK and having one saved are two completely different event, by definition.

      • i don’t care that i’m posting 3 times here, complaining that he “pulled back from his run” is the most nitpick-y thing I have ever seen. In this video ( sure from the main camera view, the 1st one, it appears the ball was near Jozy; but upon watching the next 2 replays it’s quite clear that ball didn’t really bend back like Yedlin most likely wanted. the ball was roughly 5-6 yards (not feet) in front and above his head at the time it intersected his vertical position. This is also confirmed by geometry and physics.

        we could argue about this but that just makes me want to recite a famous Iverson quote…

  6. I would go with this 11 against honduras:
    —F. Johnson—Dempsey—-Bedoya——

    I like the idea of bringing yedlin on wide for the last 20-25 minutes to run at tired defenders in that heat. Wouldnt mind zardes or wondo coming in as well to give us something different up top

    • I like this lineup. I wonder if we can find a way to implement at 2 forward system with these players. Jozy is sooooo much better in a 4-4-2.

      • Well the good thing about this lineup is that we can let deuce drift around to find space, and at times give jozy support up top.

      • I’d rather have Dempsey drifting in from a touch line, where he tends to overload defenses and find more space. I’d move Dempsey back to his old familiar LW with FJ behind him. The only problem is who can play CAM – I’d go with Diskerud, but if that falls flat, then probably would have to consider scrapping 4-2-3-1.

        If Mix can do it, that would be a pretty potent attack with Altidore laying balls back for Dempsey, Bradley (playing box to box) and Diskerud, who does have a decent shot. And we’d get that without sacrificing too much defensive shape. Honduras can hurt us on the counter.

      • Only way Dempsey worked on the wing, even in his prime was with a stay at home defender backing him up as even then he wasn’t exactly known for tracking back on defense.. Put him out there now when he runs less than ever and we are either horribly exposed on that side… or FJ will have to hang back and his ability to go forward wasted.

      • Actually I think you want a mobile LB if you have a left wing who floats inside – fill that gap. With a 4-2-3-1 you have the flexibility to push a defender up or for a DM to play box to box and still not completely open yourself to counters.

      • Agree with this. I think the shape is different depending on Beckerman/Diskerud as that second center-mid. More even between Bradley/Diskerud, with Dempsey coming deeper to get the ball. Insert Beckerman, and you see Bradley and Dempsey get higher… more free reign for Bradly/Dempsey through the middle.

    • I like this lineup as well, but could see a different approach from Klinsmann with respect to F. Johnson. I have a feeling that he may get thrown into one of the outside back roles here against Honduras, as I find it hard to see Klinsmann throwing Garza in as a starter only recently joining the team. With that said, Kyle Beckerman has become my favorite player outside of Bradley/Howard, as well as Deuce over the past 2-3 years. He is tactically one of the best players we have, and does an excellent job of eating up space for the opponent while not losing the ball. He may be older and on his way out, but I have been thoroughly impressed with his contributions over this last cycle, and he will be hard to replace. I’m looking forward to this year’s Gold Cup and the next cycle, good time for US Soccer fans!

  7. Yedlin needs to start for the simple reason that the opposition has to account for his speed no matter what their default style may be. He may not be best overall US player — that’s Bradley (or maybe its Carli Lloyd…) — but Yedlin’s game is the most disruptive to the opposition and he’s simply too dangerous to leave on the bench for 60-75 minutes. That he can play some defense is another plus.

    • disagree. Yedlin is really good at one thing; speeding forward into the right corner and cutting a pass back to the top of the box. Perfect player to bring on in the later stages of the game or vs weaker teams but not the full 90 vs good teams. That said he has developed quite a bit in the last year

      • Imho, Yedlin’s relative speed would be useful at any point in the game, he is THAT fast. what has caused him to be used as a sub thus far is his lack of experience, his uncertainty at moments and him being played as an attacker rather than his RB position he had gotten used to. I feel he’s best at RB for club and RW/RM for country; him starting should come down to a depth chart, not his great speed (i.e. his great speed shouldn’t count against him starting)

    • I’m interested to see Yedlin’s progression in a tournament where he will see minutes. What I think is more important, is the players around Yedlin. Yes, he has some maturing to do as far as his soccer IQ, but you can see the raw abilities… you just can’t teach that and I don’t think anyone is debating those. What I mean by the players around him, is players who get him the ball in dangerous situations and push him to be a threat as well as provide an option for him off the cross. It will be interesting to see how blends in and works with the team, and if they help lift his game.

  8. I haven’t been watching as much MLS this year, but is Zusi doing anything worth mentioning? Looked completely lost in his 45 minutes.

    • i wanna say he had a minor injury so he hasn’t played the full season so far. imho, him at his best again is still worthy of being there. I still rate him right behind Bedoya tho (i.e. I wouldn’t imagine Zusi to succeed at Nantes like Bedoya has).

  9. pretty accurate breakdown. I’d like to see this for Gold Cup starting XI:

    ST A ST B
    Zardes MB Yedlin
    (Chndler?) JAB OG FJ

    Bedoya(for Zardes) 60′, Morales (for KB) 75′ and AJ/Wondo(for a ST-or possibly Yedlin) 85’+ as the subs.

    personally I’d start a gritty veteran ST and an in-his-prime striker with accolades as my two STs but i don’t want to start any debates…


Leave a Comment