By Kevin Koczwara
It didn’t start well for the United States Men’s National Team in front of a raucous crowd at Livestrong Park in Kansas City. Carlos Ruiz, Guatemala’s danger man, put his country up in the fifth minute, but the U.S. battled back and Clint Dempsey put the game out of reach in the with his second goal of the night in the 36th minute to help his squad cruise to a 3-1 victory. With the win, the U.S. advances to the hexagonal stage of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
Ruiz, the 2002 MLS MVP, found space behind the U.S. defense, took down a lofted pass from the midfield and dribbled around a diving Tim Howard to put Guatemala on top 1-0, and silence a crowd full of energy and vigor. Ruiz found the space because the U.S.’s defense didn’t move as a unit and left Ruiz unattended 20 yards from goal.
The U.S. didn’t wait long to equalize, though. Six minutes after Ruiz gave Guatemala the lead and dreams of moving on to the next round of qualifying, Carlos Bocanegra equalized for the U.S. Herculez Gomez won a corner after chasing down what seemed to be a lost cause and bounced the ball off a Guatemala defender. The resulting corner from Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi found Dempsey’s head at the front post and the Tottenham forward headed the ball across the goal and found Bocanegra finishing his run to the back post for a tap-in. The goal was Bocanegra’s 14th in a National Team jersey, making him the country’s top-scoring defender.
The goal changed the momentum of the game as the U.S. took control and didn’t look back for the rest of the 90 minutes.
Eight minutes later Dempsey got himself on the score sheet and scored the game winner after a quick counter-attack following a Guatemala corner kick and foul in the U.S. box. After the quick restart, Eddie Johnson found space on the right side after switching flanks with Zusi and hit a cross into the box that Dempsey pounced on and finished, putting the shot over Ricardo Jerez Jr., Guatemala’s goalkeeper.
After the early goal, Guatemala couldn’t muster up any more chances in the first half as the U.S. dominated possession and pushed the tempo. The pressure paid off in the 36th minute when Dempsey scored his second goal of the night and gave the U.S. a two-goal cushion.
The move for the goal was started by Zusi, who swung a pass in from the right side to midfielder Michael Bradley. The center half mishandled the pass under his foot, but it found Gomez waiting in space just outside the Guatemala penalty area. From there, the forward hit a perfect first-time pass to Bradley, who bursted into the box and lifted his shot over Guatemala’s keeper before Dempsey followed up and finished it, just in case.
The second half was much the same as the first as the hosts dominated possession and created chances while the visitors opened up to get another goal, hoping that it could stave off Jamaica for the second spot in the group. The game opened up, but Guatemala was never able to keep the ball long enough to string a few passes together and get much of a shot off.
The U.S. survived a scare in the 66th minute when Howard spilled a low cross/shot from Jose Manuel Contreras inside his six-yard box right to the feet of a Guatemalan player. But the Everton goalkeeper was able to get a toe on the ball before Guatemala could and cleared the ball.
With the win, the U.S. is joined by Panama, Jamaica, Honduras, Mexico and Costa Rica or El Salvador (depending on results later tonight) in the Hexagonal round.