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U.S. men’s soccer team is in danger of not qualifying for the World Cup

United States midfielder Michael Bradley leaves the field after losing 2-0 to Guatemala in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match.

United States midfielder Michael Bradley leaves the field after losing 2-0 to Guatemala in a 2018 World Cup qualifying match.

(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

Juergen Klinsmann’s job may not be on the line Tuesday when the U.S. men’s soccer team resumes World Cup qualifying against Guatemala. But that line probably isn’t far away because Klinsmann’s team has achieved a number of firsts for the program over the last nine months.

And none of them were good.

Last summer, Jamaica beat the U.S. at home for the first time. Panama did the same on penalty kicks, its second victory in 16 games against the U.S. Then in October, Mexico beat the U.S. for the first time in seven tries since Klinsmann took over in 2011, part of a string of four consecutive winless games at home for the U.S. against CONCACAF teams.

That hadn’t happened in 50 years.

So after an embarrassing 2-0 loss in Guatemala last week, Klinsmann’s team is eyeball to eyeball with another unpleasant first: anything short of a victory Tuesday in a qualifying rematch in Columbus, Ohio, would likely keep the U.S. out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

“It’s about as close as you can come to all or nothing,” midfielder Michael Bradley said. “There’s a real sense of understanding that now, given the way things have gone and the results, it’s a game where we have to win.”

The U.S. is third in its four-team qualifying group after three games. Only the top two advance to the next round and those spots are held by Trinidad and Tobago and Guatemala. A victory in Columbus would lift the U.S. into second, but a loss or tie would leave it trailing Guatemala, ranked 95th in the world by FIFA, on points and the tiebreaking goal differential with two qualifying games remaining in September.

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Much of the blame for how the U.S. got here can be traced to Klinsmann’s penchant for experimenting with lineups, frequently mixing and matching pieces that don’t fit together.

That experiment blew up in his face last week when Klinsmann started a lineup against Guatemala with so many players out of position it looked as if he had put on a blindfold and drawn the names out of a hat.

Klinsmann used a back line of Michael Orozco, who hasn’t played a league game for his Mexican club this year; Edgar Castillo, who hadn’t been called up to the national team in two years; and former Galaxy center back Omar Gonzalez, who played himself off the U.S. roster last summer.

The results were not surprising. Orozco, starting at center back, played poorly before coming out midway through the second half. Castillo made a poor back pass to goalkeeper Tim Howard that helped set up Guatemala’s first goal, in the seventh minute. And Gonzalez lost track of his man on the second goal, which came off a goal kick eight minutes later.

To be fair, Klinsmann’s choices on defense were limited by injuries to John Brooks and Matt Besler. But in the midfield, where he had depth, he started Mix Diskerud in a defensive role, one he doesn’t play for his club team, and the results were disastrous.

Among the things that should give the U.S. confidence Tuesday is the fact that it hasn’t lost a World Cup qualifier at home in 15 years. And it has never lost in Columbus. But then Klinsmann’s team has proven capable of sinking to historic depths in recent months.

“Obviously, it’s on us to make sure the response in every way is strong,” Bradley said. “I think, no, I know, you’ll see a group step on the field and do that.”


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