CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Wednesday, June 13, 2012
The United States traveled to Guatemala on Tuesday for their second match of World Cup Qualifying.
After an uninspiring victory over Antigua & Barbuda where three points came with a lot of questions about performances and abilities, concerns began to be raised over the team's trip into Central America, a place where it hasn't always been the easiest for the U.S. team to get a result.
It was expected going into the game that Guatemala would allow the field to be opened up more than Antigua & Barbuda did, and it was indeed the case as the Carlos Ruiz-led side pressed the attack and immediately sought to win the game.
Despite back and forth play that saw both teams consistently moving from 18-to-18, there were few clear cut opportunities on goal as defenders acted quickly to close down attacking players.
It wasn't until the 40th minute that Fabian Johnson was able to help break down the Guatemalan defense as his streaking run up the left side of the field caused a shift that freed up Clint Dempsey near the top of the box. Johnson passed the ball to his right, and Dempsey let it run across his body, putting his defender off balance and onto the ground. Cutting one more time to his right, he put another defender on the ground, this one Edwin Morales. Dempsey finished off the play by shooting back across his body, behind goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez who was tracking to his left with Dempsey.
The U.S. took the lead into half time, where starting defender Clarence Goodson would be subbed out for Houston Dynamo's Geoff Cameron.
More of the same in the second half saw the U.S. with a lot of possession but also with a lot of unfortunate giveaways. Failing to complete almost a third of their passes as a team led to Guatemala counter-attacks that at times kept the U.S. on their heels.
Approaching the 70th minute, Guatemala missed a key opportunity to tie the game, as Howard made a great stop on Mario Rodriguez, but saw the rebound fall to a wide open Ruiz at the top of the goalbox. Ruiz rocketed the ball over the goal and into the stands, missing the open net. Ruiz then fell to the ground with an apparent injury, before getting back up and continuing to play.
About 10 minutes later Jozy Altidore, who had come on for Herculez Gomez a couple of minutes prior, appeared to get in behind the Guatemalan defense and scored, but the play was called back after the referee had ruled a foul was committed on Dempsey at the top of the box. American players appealed for an advantage call, but there was no undoing the whistle that had already blown. Jermaine Jones stepped up to take the free kick and sent it into orbit.
It was appearing that the U.S. was going to hold off the Guatemalan team, until Johnson took down Ruiz with a bad challenge in the 82nd minute about 25 yards from goal. Marco Pappa of the Chicago Fire stepped up to take the free kick and blistered one just under the cross bar, freezing Tim Howard who was leaning in the wrong direction.
Guatemala took over the game at that point with a rush of confidence, and made the U.S. work to keep a point, bringing a sigh of relief, yet also of frustration as the final whistle blew.
After two games, the United States shares the top spot with Jamaica in Group A, with four points each. The top two teams advance to the Hexagonal. The next qualifying game for the U.S. will be at Jamaica on September 7.
Mexico defeated El Salvador 2-1 to go to the top of Group B standings, while Costa Rica beat Guyana 4-0 to move into second place with four points. In Group C, Panama beat Cuba 1-0 to go to the top with six points, while Canada managed a 0-0 tie with Honduras to stay in the second qualifying spot.