Photo by ISIphotos.com
The U.S. men’s national team defeated Guatemala on Wednesday night, 1-0, in the opening match of the World Cup Qualifying group stage. It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly for the Americans for the first 60 minutes of the match. Guatemala created chances, torched the American flanks, and gave the crowd every reason to go crazy.
Funny thing is Guatemala never did score. The ‘Chapines’ huffed and puffed but Tim Howard’s world-class form and Guatemala’s own finishing deficiencies kept the match tied until DaMarcus Beasley came in and pumped life into the U.S. team, delivering a perfect cross to a wide-open Carlos Bocanegra for the game’s only goal.
Twenty minutes of solid defending and impressive possession work later, the Americans were on the bus celebrating the U.S. team’s first victory in Guatemala in 20 years.
There is so much to discuss about this match, from Eddie Lewis’ eye (which I have a picture of) to Tim Howard calling out Carlos Ruiz to a downright hilarious press conference with Guatemalan reporters asking priceless questions.
Let’s get started:
First, let’s start with Eddie Lewis, who was in good spirits after receiving stitches in his right eye following Gustavo Cabrera’s malicious elbow attack on him. The Guatemalan media might want to look at this picture before they go on believing the Cabrera red card was a make-up call:
SoccerTimes writer Bob Wagman asked Lewis if he would still be pretty enough for the LA Galaxy, to which Lewis responded "I think they’ll still find a place for me." In a perfect world, Lewis would take Carlos Ruiz’s old number.
Speaking of Carlos Ruiz, Tim Howard pulled no punches when discussing Ruiz, who kicked him in the head during one sequence when Howard had already pounced on a loose ball.
“He caught me. He kicked me straight in my head," Howard said of Ruiz. "With Carlos, you expect that. You know what, he’s dirty. I wish I could say otherwise but I played in MLS and I’ve seen it. There is no place for it. It’s reckless. It’s there for everyone to see, but again, I kind of expect it."
Howard drew a yellow card for going after Ruiz and smacking his hand away after Ruiz "apologized" to him. Howard wasn’t buying the apology."
“I think you would rather have him come and man up and say, ‘Look, I don’t like you, I’m going to kick you and I’m going to do all that.’" Howard said. "You can almost respect it in a funny way but he has this way about him where he kicks and punches, he’s an asshole and he wants to come and be your friend. There’s just no place for it."
In other words, it sounds like Tim Howard has a little more respect for Cuauhtemoc Blanco than for Ruiz, who managed to smack Heath Pearce in the face and kick Tim Howard in the head and NOT get a single card. (This is where I would normally insert a wisecrack about the referee being hired by MLS, but I won’t after seeing Jair Marrufo perform so well at the Olympics.)
Another classic scene from Wednesday night was the post-game press conference with Bob Bradley where the first four question were from Guatemalan reporters who were clearly going with the ‘Guatemala robbed by the referee’ storyline: "Coach, what do you think of a big team like the United States needing the referee to help it win a game against Guatemala?" "Do you think the result was fair?" "What did you think of Guatemala’s red card, which was obviously a make-up call for the USA red card?" "How much did the United States pay the referee?"
Okay, so that last one was made up, but the others were actually asked. To his credit, Bradley answered them with bland answers that didn’t provoke much reaction. I couldn’t help but imagine Bruce Arena facing those same questions and delivering a wity retort like, "Well, if Cabrera did that in the United States he’d probably get arrested. Here they’ll probably give him a medal."
Kudos go out to the American fans who attended the match. It was a modest-sized but vocal group that held its own despite being severely outnumbered. The best was hearing the Americans chant "Your not singing over there." You could hear it clear as day, but probably because Guatemalan fans were busy trying to figure out what the gringos were saying.
Those same fans were lent a helping hand by the U.S. Soccer Federation after the game. A group of more than 30 fans were stranded at the stadium after their transportation failed to show up. U.S. Soccer officials arranged to have the national team’s charter bus return to the stadium after dropping off the team to pick up the fans and take them back to the team hotel. It was a great gesture for a great contingent of fans.
That’s all for now, but before I go I will leave with this last thought. I know that the 1-0 win in ugly fashion won’t be enough for some fans who think that Kenny Cooper and Freddy Adu could have made it a 5-0 USA blowout if only they had been called up, but anyone who assumes that Cooper or Adu would have made this game anything but the tooth-and-nail street fight it was always destined to be just isn’t living in reality. Cooper and Adu’s chances will come. Wednesday night just wasn’t the time to throw in players who haven’t been in that kind of environment before.
What did you think of the game? Think the referee was on the take?(kidding). Were you happy with the match? Were you disappointed? Think the Americans got lucky? Think the Guatemalans have only themselves to blame?
Share your thoughts on the match below.