When I was previewing this game I knew that Guatemala would be a good test for the United States and I don't think the scoreline accurately indicates some of the good thinks Los Chapines did yesterday.
Because while the USA could have scored another goal or two, think Jozy Altidore's missed penalty, Guatemala squandered several set piece chances and sent a few sitters into Row Z. Defender Carlos Castrillo had a nightmare of a game, committing an own goal and a penalty in the same game as the US were able to create constant pressure from the flanks.
There are a lot of positives to talk about in this game, but before we get to that there were a few things that the US has to improve on, especially on the defensive end.
1. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND TIMMY CHANDLER
Okay, we all know that Chandler absolutely drives us insane in the defensive half. He's a terrible 1-on-1 defender at times, commits a lot of silly fouls and gets totally lost on set pieces. However, it's really hard to take him out of the lineup when he does stuff like this:
I mean, that's Teal Bunbury-esque from the MLS Playoffs last year vs. Red Bulls, and it's a really simple play, he takes a harmless pass from DeAndre Yedlin and just goes forward into space and unleashes an off-foot strike into the side netting of the far post. Like I'm sure he's done a million times before, or something like that. His offensive prowess, combined with Yedlin on the right side was really effective at times in this game.
But late in the second half, Chandler has a sequence that involved getting nutmegged near his own endline and being forced to drag down an attacker. This was followed by another foul closer to midfield a minute later where he just used his shoulder to drive another player on the ball into the ground, the latter earning him a yellow card.
I am convinced there are better all-around right backs in the US talent pool, and even a few on this roster. Heck, I've said before I'd rather have Yedlin start at right back over Chandler and I do not regret that because I think Yedlin has better defensive skills in space and 1v1. But the issue with Chandler is that he adds so much to the attack that you can almost live with him not being perfect if the rest of the defense is on the game.
2. WHY THE 4-1-3-2 WORKS, AND WHY IT DOESN'T
I approve of any formation or style that gets Michael Bradley into space with the ball and attackers in front of him to pass too. We've seen this formation work very well recently when Bradley has a true holding player behind him that can get a lot of the dirty work done in front of the backline.
Mix Diskerud is not that player, and I will continue to like Mix but he is not a holding midfielder. At least not in the true sense, he can play anywhere across the higher midfield positions but as a lone holding midfielder it's a spot he's still learning and the US suffered a bit in the first half because of it. Subbing off Omar Gonzalez made the US far more vulnerable on set pieces and the first half of the game was CONCACAF at it's finest, meaning the game was mostly a disorganized mess and probably how Guatemala wanted it to be in a sense.
The second half, and more importantly when Gyasi Zardes subbed in, were brilliant. I would've assumed with two strikers up front that players like Zardes would have less of an impact in a more box-to-box role but quite frankly, you can't teach speed. Both Yedlin and Zardes out wide are just nightmares because of not only their speed, but it's their aggressiveness as well and Zardes especially always seems to be going for goal, not just to space. Yedlin decides to just beat his man and send in a cross, which Castrillo turned into his own net and a beautiful first touch from Zardes put him in on goal late in the second half. Though the touches forward weren't the best he was able to do enough to feed Wondolowski making the late run and credit to Wondo, that was not an easy finish.
Kyle Beckerman should shore up most the issues at the holding midfield spot, but it will be interesting to see if Klinsmann sticks with Chandler at right back and clearly Omar Gonzalez needs to play basically every minute if only for his aerial prowess. Brad Guzan looked to be in mid-offseason form and I expect Rimando to play at least one game in the group stages, possibly against Haiti at Gillette.
3. IT WAS A TUNE UP GAME, AGAINST GUATEMALA, AND SHOULD BE TREATED AS SUCH
In theory, better teams would've finished the multitude of chances Guatemala created. I think the USA deserved their goals but the fact that this was a shutout did not reflect how well Guatemala played at times in this one. The defense looked out of sorts, especially on set pieces and for the better part of an hour Guatemala was their own worst enemy making the US look better than they really were.
The final thirty minutes were significantly better from an attacking standpoint, a credit to the young talent the USMNT has on the depth chart despite a more veteran laden squad than we've seen in recent months. Some of those veterans looked like players in their offseason or who have been away from the national team for a long time and that's not a bad thing. This game was supposed to serve as a confidence booster and to shake the rust off and for a number of players they accomplished both.
Jozy Altidore in particular seemed the most out of sorts for the US attack but it was more important for him to get 70 minutes for just fitness reasons coming off an injury with Toronto FC. I'm not sure who should be starting at the left mid position if it's not Fabian Johnson but I would like to keep Zardes as a weapon off the bench if possible to maximize his effectiveness.
We saw both youth and experience in that final goal from Zardes and Wondolowski on display and really set the tone for the US going into what could be a stiff test against Honduras on Tuesday. I still think the group will come down to the final game against Panama but it's important for the USA to take care of business in the first two games.