American soccer fans fretted for four days: If the United States lost to Guatemala once again, the U.S. would have little chance to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Their worries quickly vanished Tuesday night.
Clint Dempsey scored 12 minutes in, Geoff Cameron, Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore added goals and the U.S. routed Guatemala 4-0 to get back on track.
"I thought we showed a lot of heart," Dempsey said. "We showed a lot of character by dealing with a pressure situation."
Following a dismal 2-0 loss at Guatemala City on Friday night in which Jurgen Klinsmann deployed several players out of their most comfortable positions, the U.S. coach made five lineup changes and shifted two others into their more usual spots. The Americans responded and improved to 27-0-2 at home in qualifying since 2001, including 7-0-2 at Mapfre Stadium.
"Columbus has bailed us out on several occasions," U.S. captain Michael Bradley said.
Cameron doubled the lead in the 35th and Zusi, added to the roster on Sunday, made it 3-0 just 18 seconds into the second half. Jozy Altidore capped the scoring in the 89th.
"The attitude tonight was outstanding," Klinsmann said. "We were in sync with the wonderful crowd that pushed them from the first second. There was wonderful energy."
Trinidad and Tobago (3-0-1) won 6-0 at home against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and leads Group C with 10 points, three ahead of the U.S. (2-1-1). Guatemala (2-2) has six points, and St. Vincent (0-4) has been eliminated.
Seeking its eighth straight World Cup berth, the U.S. travels to St. Vincent on Sept. 2, then finishes the round four days later against Trinidad at Jacksonville, Florida.
"We showed our pride," Dempsey said. "You've got to do that if want to make it to the World Cup. You've got to show that you want it, and we showed that we wanted it."
Dempsey scored his 49th international goal, eight behind Landon Donovan's American record, after Cameron looped a pass just inside the center circle to just inside the penalty area. A streaking Gyasi Zardes, flanked by Moises Hernandez and Rafael Morales, used the side of his head to knock the ball down. Dempsey ran onto the ball after two bounces and first-timed a 14-yard right-footed shot past goalkeeper Paulo Motta.
Dempsey has six goals in 10 games against Guatemala and a U.S.-record 14 in World Cup qualifying, one more than Donovan.
Cameron doubled the lead after Bobby Wood was fouled by Cristian Jimenez, Bradley took the free kick, and Cameron got in front of Carlos Castrillo for an 8-yard header, his fourth international goal.
At the start of the second half, Yedlin played the ball to Zardes, who allowed it to bounce off him. Zusi ran in and got off a quick shot for his fourth U.S. goal, his first since October 2013 in a qualifier at Panama. A giveway by Rodrigo Saravia of the hometown Columbus Crew led to Dempsey feeding Altidore for his 34th U.S. goal.
Klinsmann shifted Cameron to central defense from right back and moved DeAndre Yedlin to right back from midfield. Defender Steve Birnbaum, midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Zusi, and Zardes were inserted into the lineup along with goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who had been scheduled to rotate with Tim Howard. Dropped were the central defense pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Michael Orozco, and midfielders Mix Diskerud and Alejandro Bedoya, who has a sore ankle.
"Every team needs leadership from its veteran players," Klinsmann said.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic, also added to the roster Sunday, made his national team debut in the 81st minute. At 17 years, 193 days, Pulisic became the youngest American in a qualifier. By appearing in the game, Pulisic became ineligible to play for Croatia, the nation of his grandfather.
"It's exactly what I expected; very, very physical," he said. "It was a good game. It gives me confidence. I'm going to try and stay grounded and keep doing what I'm doing and become the best player I can."
Notes: Bradley is suspended for the game at St. Vincent after getting his second yellow card of the round in the 72nd minute.