After a 2-1 loss to Mexico on Sunday at Azteca Stadium, the U.S. team is ready to get back in action Wednesday, when they will take on Guatemala at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala. The result in Mexico was disappointing and I think the U.S. lost for a variety of reasons.
I was surprised to see head coach Bruce Arena start nine European-based players, especially after the MLS guys spent some time training in the altitude in Colorado Springs. The Americans stuck to their game plan for the first 30 minutes or so and even created one or two opportunities, but when they got tired near the end of the half they made two big mistakes and were punished for it.
The biggest question mark in Arena's lineup was Oguchi Onyewu, who was making his first-ever start in a World Cup qualifying match in only his third appearance with the national team. You can't say that he had a terrible game or that he deserves to be benched in Birmingham because we all make mistakes, but he got caught twice on Sunday and the team paid the price. It wasn't just Onyewu that wasn't at the top of his game, though.
Landon Donovan didn't make enough happen, particularly in the first half. The whole team was having trouble holding possession and Eddie Johnson obviously works better when he has some help up front with him. Donovan and Johnson both looked more dangerous in the second half when Arena pushed Donovan up with Johnson. The U.S. was able to hold the ball better and be a little bit more dangerous. The 4-4-2 combination used in the second half was clearly a better option than the 4-5-1 that they started out with.
Against Guatemala, I think you'll see a very different U.S. team. They will be much less conservative at home and will come out with high pressure from the opening whistle. Especially after losing to Mexico, the guys feel like they have a little bit more to prove and I think that will give them more motivation to get forward. Arena will probably also put some fresh legs in the lineup to try to generate a little more possession and offense.
Guatemala is a very good team, but they don't have nearly the depth that the U.S. team does. The American defense will look to shut down Carlos Ruiz, Guillermo Ramirez and Dwight Pezzarossi. If they are able to take those three players out of the game, they will have basically eliminated Guatemala's attack. Ruiz is particularly dangerous and he is a similar player to Jared Borgetti, who scored the first goal for Mexico on Sunday. Both are big players that are good in the air and strong with the ball at their feet. A lot of the Americans are very familiar with Ruiz, though, since he has been playing in MLS for a few years, so they should know what to expect.
As a professional, you never feel good after a loss, but I don't think the U.S. team is getting too down on themselves about Sunday's result. World Cup qualifying is all about earning points, and they took three points from two away games, which isn't really that bad at all. You have to win your home games though and hope to pick up a few more points on the road along the way. Arena needs his team to get a result on Wednesday, and against a team like Guatemala in a home game, a result is three points for a victory.
Marcelo Balboa was a U.S. national team defender through much of the 1990s. He played in three World Cups and earned 128 caps. Balboa will provide commentary for ESPN2 on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.