USA's Clint Dempsey (white jersey) scored against visiting Guatemala in a World Cup qualifier on March 29, 2016, in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo: FIFA.com)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Within a five-day period, the United States rode a roller coaster of extremes.
After a disappointing 2-0 loss in Guatemala last week, another defeat would have put the Americans on the brink of elimination from 2018 FIFA World Cup contention before the final CONCACAF qualifying round. They bounced back Tuesday with an emphatic 4-0 triumph over the same Central American side, scoring two goals in each half.
"We put ourselves back in the driver’s seat and we control our own destiny," remarked Ethan Finlay, a late-match substitute. "There are two games to go and I don’t think we are going to be satisfied being second in the group. We still have aspirations on winning the group and going into the Hex on a good note.”
The win boosted the U.S. (2W-1D-1L, 7 points) into second place in Group C, three points behind table-topping Trinidad & Tobago (3-1-0, 10) and one ahead of the Guatemalans (2-0-2, 6).
When qualifying resumes on September 2, the USA could advance if it defeats the visiting St. Vincent & the Grenadines (0-0-4, 0) and if Guatemala falls at T&T.
“It didn’t take much explaining to realize what was at stake," team captain Michael Bradley said after the triumph over Guatemala. "I talked about the need for every guy to understand that at different times throughout these cycles you’re going to play a game where everything’s 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.”
The Americans have qualified for the last seven World Cups, so not reaching Russia 2018 would have far-reaching consequences.
“If you’re not qualifying for the World Cup, that’s a major step backwards," commented veteran forward Clint Dempsey, who struck against Guatemala, giving him 14 goals in 36 career qualifiers. "You’ve got to look within yourself, 'Man, how bad 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.”