COLUMBUS, Ohio – With their chances of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup hanging in the balance, the US national team turned to their veterans in Tuesday night’s 4-0 win over Guatemala.
Clint Dempsey – now the USMNT’s all-time leading World Cup qualifying scorer – kicked off the night with yet another timely goal.
After he was left out of the lineup in the 2-0 loss in Guatemala four days earlier, Kyle Beckerman provided a much-needed metronome in the center of the pitch.
Michael Bradley was back to his usual dangerous, physical self, earning man-of-the-match honors from fans and dictating the game as much as anyone.
Geoff Cameron – now one of the most seasoned players on the roster – not only organized an airtight defense, but scored the night’s second goal on an unstoppable header from Bradley’s free kick.
And for those veterans, the night was a gut-check.
“You’ve got to look within yourself, man,” Dempsey said after the match. “How bad do you want it? How bad do you want to go to the World Cup? How bad do you want to continue progressing the game in the States? You’ve got to put that on your shoulders, man. You’ve got to represent your country with pride, and I think the boys did that tonight.”
For Cameron, it was time to step up.
The defensive anchor played with significantly less experienced players on the back line, and feels it’s his time to be a mentor like he had in some USMNT legends.
“Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo and all those guys were there to kind of help me get experienced and get me some exposure,” he said. “Any way I can do that to help these guys, [I will]. It’s a long road, and you never know what’s going to happen. If you can get guys experience and feel comfortable in games like this, it’s fantastic.”
Captaining the squad, Bradley said it wasn’t a difficult task to explain to the team what was needed.
“It didn’t take much explaining to realize what was at stake,” he said. “I talked yesterday about the need for every guy to understand that, to know that at different times throughout these cycles, you’re going to play a game where everything is on the line, where if you lose, you’re done.
“That can’t scare you. You’ve got to have guys who embrace that challenge, who know that when those moments come, that’s what it’s all about.”
In a lineup that featured fresher faces like Steve Birnbaum, DeAndre Yedlin, Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes, as well as substitutes Ethan Finlay and 17-year-old newcomer Christian Pulisic, having the veterans to guide the squad was key.
“Every team needs leadership from its veteran players,” said coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Clint and Michael and Kyle Beckerman – the way he kind of cleaned everything up was tremendous – and I think Geoff Cameron grows more and more into a leader role. That’s all good to see.
“You build a bridge to the younger generation and they need their help. They need their guidance. They need their words like when they come in and make a mistake. Clint Dempsey calms them down and says, ‘Christian, no problem. No problem. Try again.’”