"Win at home, draw on the road.", "World Cup Qualifying can often be ugly and is rarely easy."
These are the old adages that U.S. Men's National Team fans hate hearing but time and again they remain true. While Tuesday night's 1-1 draw will leave a conflicted, sour taste in a Fire and USMNT fan’s mouth, the sky isn't close to falling.
Newish fans of the U.S. will look at a nation like Guatemala and ask why the U.S. couldn’t win there. It’s a fair question, though understanding historical context is important -- the U.S.is now 1-0-4 all-time at Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying with the only victory coming with an ugly 1-0 win there in 2008.
In his first true, competitive test as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann had his side well prepared going in as the Guatemalans pushed the U.S. to a furious pace for much of the first half. The team moved the ball well and as we’ve seen in the past few matches, did well to create chances, though conversion still remains an issue.
Despite that, Clint Dempsey’s goal five minutes from the half was a perfect blow to the home side who looked ready to go into the locker room. Though after the break, Marco Pappa’s insertion into the game seemed to spark Guatemala and while the U.S. still created, los Chapines put Klinsmann’s side under threat via counter attack throughout the second half.
And as you go back to the final 10 minutes of the match – seeing Fabian Johnson whistled for a foul about five yards outside the U.S. box – you were likely on the edge of your seat. As a Fire and U.S. fan, you might have cringed when you saw Pappa stand over the ball with Carlos Ruiz. As he struck it, you sort of knew it was going in – 1-1.
It’s alright to feel conflicted this morning. Marco’s goal came at a time when his country was facing having zero points from two matches. Like he has a few times this year, he struck late to help his team and he did it with the skill that all Fire fans know he has in him.
In the end, the U.S. scrambled to defend and earn the point and that’s fine. It may not “progress” on paper but there is something to be said for the fact that the team is playing much more attractively than previous years.
Having admitted that, attractive soccer isn’t always going to get results and those all that matter in World Cup Qualifying. Klinsmann still hasn’t been on the job a year and has had some good ones. The team is still in a bit of transition and the biggest issue from the past three U.S. matches shows a team that can attack but hasn’t yet figured out how to play a complete 90 minutes.
Looking at the big picture, that’s sort of okay.
Earning a point in Guatemala is still nothing to shake a stick at, with most considering the match the most difficult of the six semifinal games.
By virtue of Jamaica and Antigua drawing 0-0 Tuesday, the U.S. sits alone atop the group and in the driver’s seat heading into their September home and home series with the Reggae Boyz – one that could potentially see the U.S. into the next round inside four games. Even sticking with the win at home, draw on the road mantra, the U.S. would still have eight points and need just a win from their final two games to go through.
In the end, playing beautifully is great as long as you’re getting the results. In CONCACAF, drawing on the road in a place like Guatemala City is a result…not what you want, not necessarily what could have happened but also not a disaster.