Sunday, March 27, 2016
Potosí, Rivas, Nicaragua
Let me start by saying that Friday night Guatemala masterfully executed a simple, yet practical, game plan: play harder than your opponent for 90 minutes and wait for them to make mistakes. They were aware of their advantages, namely the hostile atmosphere… And they seemed keenly aware of the American’s weaknesses, i.e. shaky, apprehensive, unsure, backline. They were successful Friday night because they exploited those weaknesses and amplified their own strengths brilliantly. Give credit where credit is due, Guatemala outplayed the United States Friday night in a serious competition. The last phrase is most important… in a serious competition (if you missed the game, here are the highlights).
That is why this upcoming match on Tuesday in Columbus, OH against Guatemala on our home turf is a defining moment for the U.S. Men’s National Team and 5-year head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. As many have already noted, the U.S. had not lost to Guatemala in over 20 years, and, as of now, the United States is in 3rd position in their CONCACAF qualifying group and could potentially not qualify for the World Cup… Wow, not qualifying for the World Cup…. If you would have told me this would happen in 2014, I would have laughed in your face… After the World Cup, the future was bright with Jurgen. Even the dissenters had no choice but to give him a chance after he propelled us out of the “Group of Death.” I mean, we “technically” (that last second goal served in by Ronaldo was a “fluke” anyway) beat Portugal, right? It seemed we were poised to make run towards becoming an elite team… Perhaps a truly formidable opponent on the world stage.. How times change.
Are we the team that was outplayed and outworked by the 100th ranked team in the world Friday night, or are we the team that almost beat Belgium and advanced to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup?
2015 was a failure no matter which way you spin it… Unless we get to the Quarterfinals in Russia 2018, in that case you could claim it was “all part of the plan.” Our first few games following the World Cup were uninspired, at best (do not forget the punishing we received from Brazil). Yet, the Gold Cup was the beacon of hope for us to reaffirm our place on the great CONCACAF thrown. Instead, we suffered another embarrassing defeat, this time at the hands of Jamaica. We had one more chance against Mexico on OUR HOME SOIL… but alas… the result was the same: Loss.
I remained calm because the World Cup was still fresh in my mind, but now it is 2016, we are heading to the halfway point, and we are in 3rd place… in the semifinal round of qualification. We have not even reached the Hex yet… This next match is a defining moment for Jurgen and his U.S. Men’s National Team.
Are we the team that was outplayed and outworked by the 100th ranked team in the world Friday night, or are we the team that almost beat Belgium and advanced to the Quarterfinals of the World Cup? Are we a team you “hope” to have in your group in the World Cup, or are we legitimate competition? Was 2014 a fluke, or was 2015 a fluke? I still believe it is the latter, but everyone on the team is going to have to look in the mirror this weekend and figure that out for themselves, because after Tuesday night, we will all have more clarity.
I (still) believe that we will win.
by Chris Rios