Sixty-two minutes into Tuesday night's commanding 4-0 US win over Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier at MAPFRE Stadium, Taylor Twellman asked the question that has plagued this particular regime over the last four-and-a-half years: Why is the team unable to produce this kind of performance -- not necessarily the cohesiveness and physical domination, but the intensity and confidence and "proactiveness" -- on a regular basis? Why does it require having backs firmly against the wall before the switch is flipped?
It's not an easy question to answer, and there is the danger of reading too much into a home result against a poor team. Guatemala are the lowest-rated team the US have lost to in an official competition since the FIFA Rankings were introduced in 1992. We should never have lost to them in the first place.
But the US were so dominant, and cohesive defensively, and relentless with how they pressed. This at least resembled a team with an identity and ideas, which is something the US have been sorely lacking since Bob Bradley was dismissed.
There will need to be more of that early this summer at the Copa America, and later in the summer with the final two qualifiers. This result makes the US safe from imminent danger, but it doesn't see the job through. That'll have to happen in September.
Here are a few other notes:
Beckerman Directed the Game
I still maintain that the best thing Jurgen Klinsmann has done is emphasize the importance of the true d-mid, which was the hallmark of his first three years in charge. The US have always played their best with a No. 6 protecting the backline, and that's been as true against the likes of Germany and Portugal as it is against the likes of Guatemala and Panama.
Starting with the loss against Belgium -- when Kyle Beckerman was inexplicably omitted -- Klinsmann has moved away from having a true d-mid on the field, and toward a dual-pivot system in which a pair of box-to-box players share defensive responsibilities. They also share responsibility for directing the game, and the two top box-to-box midfielders in the US stable (Michael Bradley & Jermaine Jones) have always struggled to work out those responsibilities between themselves.
Beckerman is there to smooth things out. He shepherds possession into overloads, and allows everybody to get forward. Watch:
That play didn't work perfectly, but it didn't have to. All it had to do was put Guatemala in a mindset where they repeatedly worried about collapsing in upon itself, and put the rest of the US midfield into the mindset of "let's get forward and press, Beckerman's got our backs."
Against CONCACAF competition, I think Beckerman is still the best bet for this role. Sometime soon, though, Klinsmann has to identify a successor -- be it Wil Trapp, Danny Williams, Perry Kitchen, or someone totally out of the blue.
It's not about getting the most talented XI out there. It's about getting a group of players who can work together and make each other better.
Let's See More of the 4-3-3
Symmetry is never a goal in and of itself -- balance is. But sometimes balance and symmetry are linked, as was the case this night for the US:
This was the first time in forever that the US XI looked like they understood their roles, and understood how to work with each other. Again: There's a danger in reading too much into that, because Guatemala were not good. But it also doesn't mean nothing at all -- this was the same Guatemala team that beat the US 2-0 just a few days ago, right?
The key was having most players in their proper positions, or at least in positions with which they're familiar. Graham Zusi hasn't been a full-time central midfielder since 2012, but he was playing with two other guys (Beckerman & Bradley) who were perfectly complementary. Clint Dempsey's not a No. 9, but the movement behind him was good enough to crack Guatemala open repeatedly. DeAndre Yedlin looked like the Premiership-quality fullback he is, rather than a fish-out-of-water winger.
About the only one who struggled was Bobby Wood, who's not really a winger. But having only one guy look lost because he's not used to his role is so, so much better than having the usual six or seven wandering around on the pitch without direction.
Hopefully there's more of this to come.
Still Not Building From Possession
This tweet was launched at halftime, and its underlying implication -- that the US hadn't been pinning Guatemala into their own end -- was correct. Guatemala hadn't threatened at all, but it wasn't like the US were stringing passes together to unlock a bunkered-in foe.
No, the US goals came from a Route 1 longball and then a set piece. The next two were from a fortunate bounce off of Gyasi Zardes's rear end and a horrible touch from Rodrigo Saravia. And throughout, the tone was set by a ferocious high press based upon superior fitness and physicality.
So while there's tons to be happy with about this game -- about any 4-0 win -- the type of progress it symbolizes is a return to US roots rather than a page in a new book. Perhaps if there had been more of Christian Pulisic or any of Darlington Nagbe or Lee Nguyen, it would have been a different story.
But there wasn't. So for now, the US are what they are: They run fast, they try hard, and on this night at least, they won.