Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. Men’s National Team needed just a draw to advance to the next round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but what they got instead was a convincing victory that saw them shake off an early scare.
The United States won Group A in the semifinal round of qualifying and reached the Hexagonal by fighting off an early goal from Carlos Ruiz and scoring three first-half goals en route to an impressive 3-1 triumph over Guatemala at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City on Tuesday night.
Clint Dempsey led the way for the U.S., scoring twice and adding an assist in a game that saw the Americans improve to 4-1-1 in their World Cup qualifying campaign. Carlos Bocanegra scored the other goal for a U.S. team that was on the front foot, netting an equalizer in the 10th minute to become the all-time leading scorer among U.S. defenders.
The loss, coupled with Jamaica’s 4-1 win vs. Antigua & Barbuda, eliminated Guatemala. The Reggae Boyz earned the other place in the final round of CONCACAF qualifying from Group A with 10 points and a better goal differential than Guatemala.
Playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation and in front of a pro-U.S. crowd, the Americans opened the game by dominating possession. But that did not stop Guatemala from taking an early lead after a long ball played over the top exposed the U.S. defense and allowed for Ruiz to race in on goal before rounding Tim Howard and tapping the ball into the back of the net in the fifth minute.
While the goal stunned head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the rest of the U.S., it did not take long for the Americans to respond. Bocanegra leveled things five minutes later with a simple finish that came after Dempsey nodded down a Graham Zusi corner kick in the U.S. captain’s direction.
With the U.S. continuing to push, Dempsey went from provider to scorer in the 18th minute. Steve Cherundolo hit a quality through ball in behind Guatemala’s defense that found a streaking Eddie Johnson and the U.S. forward laid off a low cross towards the center of the penalty area that Dempsey finished with a sliding effort.
Dempsey then gave the Americans a 3-1 lead 18 minutes later with his second strike of the night. Michael Bradley raced in on goal and lofted a ball over goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez that looked goal-bound, but Dempsey made sure it would find the back of the net by tapping it home from a yard out.
With Jamaica leading Antigua & Barbuda in the other Group A game, Guatemala needed to come out of its defensive shell in the second half but the visitors did no such thing. The U.S. continued to dominate possession and created more chances, but Jerez denied Dempsey of his first international hat-trick while also stopping Sacha Kljestan and Danny Williams from building on the Americans’ lead. Even without scoring again, the Americans saw off the game with ease by holding onto the ball and limiting Guatemala to mostly half-chances.
The U.S. will continue their World Cup qualifying campaign with their first matches of the Hexagonal round in March 2013. The other teams in the Hex are Mexico, Panama, Honduras, Jamaica and Costa Rica.
The schedule for the Hexagonal should be finalized by no later than December.
What do you think of the United States’ 3-1 win over Guatemala? Who impressed you? What needs to be addressed before the start of the Hexagonal?
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