Winning is the only option.
The U.S. men's national team has been in must-win situations a few times in recent years, and has found a way to deliver on most occasions, but for the first time in its Gold Cup history, the Americans find themselves needing a win in group play.
Sure, a tie against Guadeloupe on Tuesday night (9pm, Fox Soccer Channel) could still salvage a quarterfinal place for the United States, but for a team that entered the Gold Cup as a co-favorite with Mexico, a potential 1-1-1 record and possible third place in group play would be tough to justify, and wouldn't exactly set the tone for a run through the knockout rounds (never mind the fact that third place in Group C could set up a brutal quarterfinal match-up against Mexico if Canada beats Panama).
No, a win against Guadeloupe is what the United States needs to salvage some pride after a lackluster loss to Panama, and a convincing victory is needed to really give the USA something to build on heading into the Gold Cup quarterfinals.
And a loss? A loss to Guadeloupe would mean a devastating and embarrassing group stage elimination from the Gold Cup, a scenario the U.S. team isn't ready to even consider.
"We know it's an elimination game and we know what we have to do to perform," said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. "If we perform to our own standards we will get the right result and move forward.
"We would have liked to have cruised through the first two games and put our feet up and have a laugh (vs. Guadeloupe) but that's not always the case," Howard said. "We just want to get through."
If the United States is going to advance, it will need a better performance, particularly at the start of the match, than it delivered in its 2-1 loss to Panama. There were few bright spots for the United States in its first group stage loss in Gold Cup history, but that lackluster performance should provide motivation for a veteran team.
"Losses happen. It's frustrating, but we weren't good enough," U.S. midfielder Clint Dempsey said. "We just have to pick ourselves up, get motivated and start playing with the confidence and ability we know we're capable of playing with."
"There were quite a lot of us that were subpar, and I said that to some of the guys," Howard said. "When you start having 11 guys that are sixes and below, you're not going to win games. You can carry one guy, but you can't carry four, five and six guys, and that's what we had to do the other night."
Guadeloupe isn't as highly regarded as Panama, but after a rough first half of Gold Cup play, Guadeloupe has outscored its opponents 2-1 in its past 149 minutes of play, and that's despite playing most of those minutes down a man after being issued red cards in each of its first two group matches.
With a good defense, strong goalkeeper and forwards who can definitely capitalize on their chances, Guadeloupe won't be a pushover, but if the United States plays to its potential, a big win is possible.
A common theme heard on Monday from the U.S. camp was patience, something the team didn't show in the Panama match.
"What you ended up seeing in the Panama game was that we wanted to win the game in the first five minutes," Howard said. "It takes time to probe and break teams down and we didn't do that, and to (Panama's) credit they counterattacked well.
"In those situations we just have to be a little bit patient."
Bob Bradley will have some decisions to make about his lineup against Guadeloupe. After starting the same lineup for the first two matches, it seems inevitable that there were will be some changes to the lineup. Whether it's centerback, where Tim Ream is coming off a bad performance, or up top, where Juan Agudelo has been ineffective and Jozy Altidore is coming off a subpar match, or even in central midfield, where Jermaine Jones faded late in the Panama match, Bradley could make any number of changes.
Among the candidates to crack the starting lineup are midfielders Maurice Edu and Sacha Kljestan, as well as defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Eric Lichaj.
Whoever Bradley chooses to start will need to put in a good performance to ensure an American victory and a place in the Gold Cup quarterfinals. The U.S. players acknowledged that the Panama game wasn't good enough, and they're determined to make up for it.
"We know that we're on home soil and we need to play better," Dempsey said. "To lose the way we did the other day was definitely frustrating but (against Guadeloupe) we're going to come out fighting."