Beating Guatemala 4-0 in the United States may not be a traditional statement win, but the Americans needed such a performance in the worst way. Before Friday, the U.S. men's national soccer team had not lost to Guatemala in 21 matches since 1988.
The loss dropped Guatemala to third place in Group C of CONCACAF's 2018 World Cup hopefuls. The USMNT now leads Guatemala by one point and trails first-place Trinidad and Tobago by three.
"I thought we showed a lot of heart," Clint Dempsey said after the game. "We showed a lot of character by dealing with a pressure situation."
Whether he is officially named captain or not, Dempsey is an important leader on coach Jurgen Klinsmann's team, so it was only fitting he scored the USMNT's first goal. Dempsey took advantage of a Guatemalan defensive hiccup near the goal to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute. Though the U.S. never allowed a goal in the game, scoring first and scoring surely eased a lot of tension on its sideline.
— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) March 30, 2016
The U.S.'s second goal came on a free kick in which team captain Michael Bradley set up an indefensible header from Geoff Cameron. Though Bradley's kick was pristinely executed, Cameron still had to get separation from his defender, and once he did, the Guatemalan goalkeeper had no chance.
Check out @GeoffCameron's 35th-minute goal to give the #USMNT a 2-0 lead against Guatemala. #USAvGUAhttps://t.co/Xx6xLDTUli — U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) March 30, 2016
Shortly after the half, Deandre Yedlin fed Gyasi Zardes the ball deep in Guatemalan territory. Dempsey appeared to be headed toward the ball to take a shot - possibly to confuse Guatemala - but it was Graham Zusi who knocked it in on the left post.
— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) March 30, 2016
With the game all but won, the USMNT poured it on with one final goal in the 90th minute when Dempsey had the ball just outside the goalkeeper's box with no defenders around. In fact, he was so isolated, the goaltender left the box to meet Dempsey while a Guatemalan defender stood in the net. Rather than take the shot, Dempey conceded to Jozy Altidore like a point guard that assists a teammate on a fast break alley-oop.
| #Eliminatorias: 89' ¡Goooool! ¡Altidore anota el cuarto para @ussoccer! #USAvGUA https://t.co/PsBAuF3RKl — Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) March 30, 2016
The win puts the USMNT into an advantageous position going into a five-month layoff before wrapping up the fourth round of World Cup qualification. Its next match is against St. Vincent, a team with no points and a -16 goal differential, on Sept. 2. Depending how that game unfolds and how Guatemala and Trinidad fair, the U.S. could feasibly be safe heading into its Sept. 6 game against Trinidad.
"We needed a big reaction [to Friday's loss], and I think everybody had the same mindset of needing a big reaction: be aggressive, high intensity, get the ball moving fast," Kyle Beckerman said. "I think that aggression led to everything else that went good for us."