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One big win, one deflating loss and questions remain about USMNT

By Sunny Cadwallader - Mar 29, 2016

"If you can’t beat Guatemala at home, in a World Cup qualifier, you shouldn’t be the coach."

~Landon Donovan on the Dan Patrick Show

____________________________

The pressure was on and the USA answered the call.

After a horrible outing and 2-0 loss last Friday night away, the U.S. men's national team (USMNT) did a 180 with their 4-0 win tonight over Guatemala in Columbus, Ohio.

U.S. Soccer was in a must-win game. Jürgen Klinsmann was on the hot seat. The World Cup, still two years away, was in jeopardy, and winning meant a much better chance to move on to the hexagonal round. The U.S. has not missed a World Cup since 1990.

To put that in perspective: The last time the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup:

-Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus had not been born yet

-Kanye West turned 13

-Mariah Carey wasn’t a big star just yet, but someone named Vanilla Ice was

-Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation tour was in full force

-Sinead O'Connor's "Nothing Compares To You," was a huge hit

-"House Party" was released, Fresh Prince of Bel Air debuted

-Buster Douglas was heavyweight champ

The fact that their qualifying for the World Cup was even an issue should still be concerning for U.S. fans. Confusion and disarray was replaced by confidence and inspiration, but it should not have come to this.

ESPN’s Taylor Twellman echoed what many had been asking over the past several days, “How did they lose to this team?”. How exactly did the U.S. lose to a team they hadn’t lost to since 1988? Why did they struggle against the the current 95th ranked team in FIFA? Was it simply on the players’ performance? Or, was it more of the growing sentiment that it was on coaching and Klinsmann?

Tonight, U.S. players were inspired. They were attacking from the get-go. Passes were (mostly) crisp. Spacing was improved. It was as if they each knew their role and played with a reckless abandon.

It started early with one of the old guys. Clint Dempsey pounced on a loose ball in the box and made it 1-0 in the 12th minute. A beautiful Michael Bradley free kick in the 35th minute found Geoff Cameron in the box who headed it home to make it 2-0.

The confidence flowed from there against Guatemala. Right after halftime, Gyasi Zardes couldn’t corral a pass from DeAndre Yedlin but Graham Zusi was there to make it 3-0. A late goal by substitute Jozy Altidore finished off the scoring for the U.S. to make the final score 4-0.

The win puts the U.S. in second place in Group C in the CONCACAF region with 7 points. Trinidad & Tobago sits atop the group with 10 points. It also cools off - for now - any hot seat talk that swirled around Klinsmann.

“There’s a very good spirit to this group,” said Klinsmann afterward.

Good spirit is a start, but there are still so many questions to be answered between now and their next qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago on September 6. There are three friendlies and the Copa America Centenario to go for Klinsmann to figure out the best team going forward for the USMNT.

Klinsmann has gotten away with relying on a group of 30+ year-olds on the “Road to Russia”. But come September, that group will have more wear and tear from the MLS season on their legs.

His captain, Michael Bradley, will be out (yellow-card accumulation). Although his senior team shined, his U23’s did not. He may have to call upon one or a few of the players from the U23 squad.

After their 2-1 loss to Colombia tonight (3-2 on aggregate) in Texas, the U23 players will be available. There will be no U.S. team in Rio for the Olympics for the second consecutive quadrennial. It’s something that hasn’t happened in 48 years.

That should be the biggest worry for USMNT fans. Another Olympics without the U.S. is another missed opportunity for the next generation of players to play against high-level competition. Another competition to raise the profile of the U.S. in the eyes of the soccer world.

Whether you agree or not, the U.S.’s status in soccer has taken another hit with this failure.

Klinsmann came to the U.S. top job with the Olympics as a clear goal. He has had a hand in having his guys in charge of lower level development. Instead, the U23s reflect the up-and-down ways of the senior team.Moments of brilliance mixed with moments of frustration.

“To not qualify for the Olympics is a failure,” ESPN’s Alejandro Moreno said during the broadcast. “It’s a referendum on U.S. Soccer.”

Jürgen Klinsmann is U.S. Soccer. He’s been given all of the power by the head of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati. Every level on the pitch is a reflection of Klinsmann and his staff. Although the World Cup is still a possibility, there will be no Olympics and, lest we forget, no U17 World Cup either.

There is no progress. Only regression. Call it a failure. Call it a referendum. The senior team lives another day. The U23’s are left wondering. Any other high-level federation (I’m looking at you Mexico) wouldn’t hesitate to make changes at the top.

Remember Miguel "Piojo" Herrera?" He was a winning coach with a fairly consistent team, and one transgression cost him his job. The FMF doesn't mess around.

Klinsmann might have saved his job for another few months. A loss would almost certainly have doomed him, it stands to reason. In any case, it maybe high time for the federation to become more proactive in reviewing coaches and player development.

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