With a 2-0 loss at Guatemala, the United States forced itself into what basically amounts to a must-win situation when the teams meet again late Tuesday night in Columbus, Ohio.
American coach Jurgen Klinsmann made some puzzling lineup choices and the team's defense self-destructed Friday night in Guatemala City.
"I think it was a lack of focus, concentration, and wrong decisions," Klinsmann said. "We have to take responsibility for it, every one of us — coaches, players — and move on and get it done on Tuesday."
Edgar Castillo's poor backpass set up corner kicks that led to Rafael Morales' goal in the seventh minute. A goal kick by Paulo Motta went most of the length of the field in the 15th, and 36-year-old Carlos Ruiz ran onto the ball, came in alone on goalkeeper Tim Howard and doubled the lead.
"Sloppy," Howard said. "It's almost something like you can't account for."
Seeking their eighth straight World Cup berth, the Americans had been unbeaten in 21 games against Guatemala since January 1988 and had never lost to Los Chapines in World Cup qualifying.
"Maybe it was a lack of focus, but these places are very difficult to come play at," defender Omar Gonzalez said.
Trinidad and Tobago (2-1) leads Group C with seven points after rallying for a 3-2 win at St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Guatemala (2-0-1) is one point back. The U.S. (1-1-1) has four points and St. Vincent (0-3) is last.
In September, the Americans play at St. Vincent and host Trinidad to complete the regional semifinals. The top two teams advance to the six-nation regional finals.
"We always said that World Cup qualifying is a long road, a tricky road, a difficult road," Klinsmann said.
Klinsmann already was criticized following his team's semifinal elimination in last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup and a loss to Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff.
He started Gonzalez and Michael Orozco in central defense after John Brooks returned to Germany on Friday because of a bruised left knee and defender Matt Besler sustained a concussion in training Thursday. Fabian Johnson, a midfielder and defender who has a groin injury, didn't dress; midfielder Jermaine Jones is suspended; and Jozy Altidore, the top American forward, was limited to entering in the 66th minute as he recovers from yet another hamstring injury.
Howard started for the U.S. at the last two World Cups, but lost his starting job at Everton and was appearing in his first match since Jan. 24.
Geoff Cameron started at right back rather in the more central role he usually plays for Stoke; DeAndre Yedlin started in midfield rather than right back, his position with Sunderland; and Mix Diskerud was in a defensive midfield role, which he doesn't play for New York City.
Cameron switched to the center and Yedlin moved to right back when Gyasi Zardes entered in the 59th.
Castillo, making his first national team appearance in two years, made a wide backpass that Howard couldn't get to and rolled over the end line, leading to the first goal. Guatemala's first corner kick was chested over the line by Orozco, leading to a second. Morales jumped over Mix Diskerud, who appeared to slip, to meet Jean Marquez's corner and Morales nodded the ball off Diskerud and to the left of a diving Howard, just inside the post.
Klinsmann said a defender was supposed to be on the line.
"We write everything on the white board. It's in the locker room," Klinsmann said. "It shouldn't happen."
Ruiz scored his 60th international goal when Motta's goal kick went the length of the field, with Michael Bradley deciding not to head it. Ruiz burst past three Americans, ran onto the ball and slotted it under Howard from just inside the penalty area.
"A sequence of mistakes," Klinsmann said, "from Michael not heading the ball to the center backs thinking that Michael has it."
Motta blocked Bedoya's shot in the 23rd minute, used his right leg to stop Dempsey's 8-yard shot following a pass from Yedlin in the 52nd minute, then slid to stop Bedoya's effort with his chest and had a kick save on Altidore in the 82nd.
Morales' header off a corner kick glanced off Dempsey and the crossbar in the 71st.
Asked what has to get better Tuesday, Bradley said simply: "Everything."
NOTES: The U.S. under-23 team tied 1-1 at Colombia in the first leg of its Olympic qualifying playoff. ... In the other Group C match, Trinidad and Tobago (2-0-1) rallied for a 3-2 win at St. Vincent and the Grenadines (0-3) as Kenwyne Jones scored in the 58th and Levi Garcia got goals in the 71st and 82nd. Myron Samuel converted a penalty kick for the hosts in the 45th and Shandel Samuel scored in the 77th. ... In Group B, Panama (1-1-1) tied 0-0 at (0-2-1) Haiti and Costa Rica (2-0-1) drew 1-1 at Jamaica (1-1-1). Je-Vaughn Watson put the hosts ahead in the 16th, but Johnny Acosta tied the score in the 68th. ... In Group A, Nelson Bonilla's 88th-minute goal gave host El Salvador a 2-2 tie against Honduras. Alberth Ellis scored in the 19th minute and Antony Lozano in the 59th for the Catrachos (0-2-1). Pablo Punyed scored in first-half stoppage time for El Salvador (0-1-2). Mexico (3-0) won 3-0 at Canada (1-1-1) on goals by Javier Hernandez, Hirving Lozano and Jesus Corona.