KANSAS CITY, Kan.
The U.S. Men’s National Team started shaky Tuesday night in front of 16,947 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, giving up a goal in the first 5 minutes of play. Despite the early mixup the U.S. recovered and attacked effectively and at times relentlessly to defeat Guatemala 3-1 and win their CONCACAF Group A.
The U.S. now moves on to the hexagonal qualifying stage which will take place from Feb. 6 through Oct. 15, 2013. Guatemala was ousted from the hexagonal stage with the defeat and Jamaica’s 4-1 win over Antigua Barbuda.
Carlos Bocanegra was caught flat footed in the 5th minute of play when Guatemala’s Jose Contreras played a ball over the top. The always dangerous Carlos Ruiz raced ahead of the U.S. captain and pushed the ball left of goalkeeper Tim Howard. Ruiz easily slipped by the US keeper and tapped the ball in from a wide angle, putting the Guatemalans up 1-0.
Just 5 minutes later the USA captain redeemed himself by equalizing the score. Home town hero Graham Zusi, who had another excellent match for the U.S., took a corner kick from the right side and found the head of Clint Dempsey on the near post. He flicked the ball down and across the goalmouth which was all Bocanegra needed to volley home and knot the score.
Eight minutes later it was Dempsey with the first of a 2-goal performance on the night. Steve Cherundolo, who started in his customary right back position, released Eddie Johnson down the flank. Johnson, who solidified his spot with his second consecutive well-played match, laid a perfect low cross into the box and just ahead of the Guatemalan defense. Dempsey came in sliding and knocked the ball into the net for the go-ahead and game winning goal.
But Dempsey wasn’t finished. He became the U.S. Man of the Match by scoring his second of the night and his 30th career U.S. goal in the 36h minute, this time assisted by Michael Bradley. The USA midfielder popped the ball over Guatemalan keeper Ricardo Jerez Jr. and Dempsey, opportunistic as always, timed his run perfectly to be first to the ball and finish from point blank range.
The Guatemalans came out hard at times in the second half, presumably knowing that Jamaica was up over Antigua in their match. Their best chance may have come in the 66th minute when a shot came in on USA goalkeeper Howard who dropped to save the initial shot but couldn’t hold onto the ball. Howard kicked the ball away just a moment before Guatemala closed to finish their chance.
Just two minutes later Ruiz took Bradley down in the Guatemalan box but Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno was having nothing of it. Still, the U.S. closed out the match well defeating Guatemala and moving on to the Hex.
Six teams advance to the hexagonal qualifying stage from the three CONCACAF groups. The US wins Group A and Jamaica is second after a 4-1 win Tuesday over Antigua and Barbuda. Mexico had already claimed their spot in the final rounds from Group B and Costa Rica will join them as the 2nd place team. Honduras and Panama finish 1 and 2 respectively in Group C to also qualify for the final round. The match schedule will be announced at a later date according to CONCACAF.