The United States men's national team has done just enough to likely advance to the next stage of World Cup qualifying, but the run will end unless changes are made.
A 3-1-1 record through five games gives Team USA 10 points in Round 3 of qualifying, tied for the most points in the group. If the squad earns at least a draw in Tuesday's game against Guatemala, they will move onto the next stage.
Still, things should have been easier to this point. None of the other teams in the group are ranked in the FIFA's top 50 in the world. Considering the Americans reached the knockout stage of the 2010 World Cup, it should not have struggled with Antigua and Barbuda, Jamaica or Guatemala.
However, the team has just not clicked to this point.
One of the biggest problems has been on defense. The team has conceded five goals in five games and only has one clean sheet in that time. Against stiffer competition, those numbers would be much worse.
Tim Howard is still one of the top keepers in the game, but the defenders have struggled to keep up with the competition. Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra are both 33 years old and are not quite as good as they once were.
Additionally, the team needs to make sure it does not lose focus for any part of the 90-minute match. Simple mistakes have led to goals that have cost them dearly.
The offense has had better excuses. The lineup has not been at full strength throughout qualifying, especially at the midfield position. With Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley out for a long time, lapses in play are understandable.
On the other hand, there have been problems with people finishing goals. Eddie Johnson proved with his two scores that he should be on the team more often. Both were headers that were perfectly placed—something his predecessors have not been able to do.
Johnson is fourth in the MLS with 15 goals and could provide a spark for remainder of international play.
The team also must keep a spot for Graham Zusi, who has been very solid in the midfield in the last couple of matches. He pushes the action and provided a great ball to assist Johnson on one of his goals.
These two players have not been mainstays on the national team, but they should be going forward.
Finally, they need to do anything necessary to get Clint Dempsey back on track. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been moving him all around the pitch, only to see him stay borderline invisible.
He has too much talent to not be utilized on the national team. Dempsey must get more touches to allow him to work his magic and put the ball in the back of the net.
The 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday was far from inspiring. Hopefully, the United States team can learn some lessons and come out with a better performance next time.
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