Just four days ago, the United States traveled to Guatemala to play what was likely their toughest World Cup qualifying fixture before the Hexagonal round. You already know how that went: A strange USMNT lineup - aren't they all, at this point? - was put on the field, numerous top American players had poor outings, and the US handed their hosts goals from a set piece and, somehow, a goal kick. The embarrassing 2-0 loss, coupled with Trinidad and Tobago's 3-2 comeback win against St. Vincent & the Grenadines earlier in the day, left the US in third place with three games left in CONCACAF's semifinal round of qualifying.
The talk of Jurgen Klinsmann's bizarre tactical choices (like Mix Diskerud often having to be the most conservative central midfielder in a 442) and his outright nonsensical choice to continue to start Michael Orozco has taken up most of the attention in the days since. I suppose that is fair, but the fact remains that Klinsmann's poor work as a coach isn't the only thing at play here. Individual American players simply weren't ready for the kind of battle they were going to face in Guatemala City. Diskerud and Orozco made mistakes on the goals, but what about guys like Michael Bradley not being able to corral a simple pass? Good players like Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya wasted great looks on goal. Bad coaching is a huge problem for the US, but it isn't the only one.
Friday's loss has left the USMNT in a precarious position. A loss - and after last summer's Gold Cup, losing to CONCACAF opposition other than Mexico on US soil is a very real possibility - would leave them only a sliver of a window to get into the Hex. Even a draw would leave the US needing to suddenly pick it up and win two games to close the round out. Let's say the Copa America Centenario goes badly (big stretch, I know). Will this team be in the right place mentally to win a must-win, and then repeat the trick four days later?
That's why this game, even if it's not mathematically a must win, is still pretty much a must win. The US is in a tailspin, and if they don't pull out of it now, they might be too far gone to fix the problem in the final two games. Even in the wild, woolly world of CONCACAF qualifying, it's a shocking situation.
Location: Mapfre Stadium (Columbus, OH)
Kick-off time: 7:25pm Eastern (note: The broadcast window will start at 7:00pm)
Available TV: ESPN2 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: WatchESPN (English), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Treat this as tonight's gamethread.