The U.S. sealed its passage to the hexagonal stages of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying on Tuesday night with a convincing 3-1 victory over Guatemala.
This team under Jurgen Klinsmann has taken its share of heat in recent weeks after a unimpressive win in Antigua and a general lack of style that was promised when the German took the reins at U.S. Soccer, but Tuesday night’s performance showed the type of muscle being flexed you that would expect out of a regional power.
Klinsmann’s lineup showed a possible change of direction with Danny Williams once again taking on a central attacking midfield role and Michael Parkhurst’s return to the lineup at left back.
The U.S. came out quick with Dempsey and Johnson interchanging passes and earning the Americans their first corner of the game just after the opening whistle. But after a just five minutes, the Americans grasp on the game seemed to be slipping away as the new center back pairing of Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron suffered a breakdown in communication and let Carlos Ruiz slip through for a 1-v-1 against Howard, a battle he would win.
The Americans were quick to respond, however, and would find their reward just a few minutes later when a Graham Zusi corner kick was flicked toward goal by Dempsey and finished off by Bocanegra.
With the score tied 1-1, the tension of the match naturally kicked up a notch. Possession was in favor of the U.S. over the next few minutes, and eventually the duo of Dempsey and Eddie Johnson would strike in the 18th minute, with the latter finishing off the cross by Sounders FC front man Johnson by sliding in to nip the ball away from the goalkeeper.
While the goal was beautifully executed between both Johnson and Dempsey, each owed some of the glory to Steve Cherundolo for the left footed through pass he sent through from midfield to spring Johnson down the wing into open space.
The significance of the goal became massive in the moments following as Jamaica put home their first two goals of a 4-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda. For Klinsmann and every U.S. fan out there, the only sure way forward was victory.
The team seemed intent on an emphatic victory once taking the lead. The overall play and attacking flow moving through Johnson and Zusi was much better as Bradley pressed in from the midfield and Danny Williams adequately filled in the space behind them.
In the 36th minute, the U.S. would extend that lead with another goal from Dempsey, with Bradley servicing him with a chip over the keeper that fell directly into Dempsey’s path for an easy finish. It was a calm, collected stint of play that led to the goal and set a pace to the game that would continue into halftime.
With a 3-1 lead, halftime changes were never likely at the interval, but one couldn’t help but suspect that the changes made in the second half would be defensive in nature.
Coming out the gate the U.S. was more dominant in controlling the game and the midfield with increased effectiveness. Opportunities were on hand with Johnson wiffing on a Zusi cross deep in the box and at times the ball bouncing around in danger areas but with no American players threatening.
In the 70th minute, Michael Bradley should have been awarded a penalty after clearly being fouled in the box by Ruiz. Unfortunately, the Roma man would not get to earn a goal for the home side to go with his assist earlier in the game and complete a well rounded performance.
While the U.S. was unable to seriously threaten goal, neither did Guatemala. The second half ended in a stalemate with semi-meaningful cameos for Sacha Klejstan and Maurice Edu who filled their roles nicely.
While this group stage portion of World Cup qualifying didn’t go as smoothly as Klinsmann and company would have hoped, the desired result was attained in the end and the manager has showed his willingness to look at different players over that span. Where the team goes from here will rest on several factors, but nothing may be more crucial to the team than getting a consistent team together for the final stage instead of continuing to assess the depth of the American talent pool.
Tim Howard: It wasn’t Howard’s best game, being beaten easily by Ruiz and later struggling to hang on to routine balls in the box. Regardless, he has come up big in recent years, particularly in the landmark victory at Azteca earlier this year. This game was more a fluke than an indicator of his form.
Steve Cherundolo: While the U.S. faces a generational transformation on its back line, the immediate future of the right back position is solidified in Cherundolo. In this one, he continued his string of solid performances with a number good crosses and an impeccable sense of positioning.
Geoff Cameron: Playing for Stoke City in England has helped him catch Klinsmann’s eye and apart from the breakdown that led to Ruiz’s goal, he and Bocanegra seem to be working out there communication issues. The U.S. is in need of a true center back, but his deployment as a full back in England means that he’ll have to learn to shake off some of his positional rust when he plays for the national team.
Michael Parkhurst: Stepping in at left back with Fabian Johnson unavailable, Parkhurst did a good enough job defensively but offered little to the attack. As a result of the U.S. having most of the possession in the game, he spent a lot of time in the background.
Graham Zusi: The Sporting KC man showed up in big fashion for the U.S. in front of his home crowd. He consistently got himself involved a brought quality decision making and execution when he got on the ball. His took the corner the first goal was scored from and delivered a steady supply of dangerous set piece deliveries.
Danny Williams: He did a decent job of connecting his passes after a bad showing in the team’s previous outing.
Michael Bradley: A reliable midfield presence that brings a sharp attacking edge to the game, Bradley is showing his worth with this performance and work rate.
Eddie Johnson: The player that fell out of national team favor while riding out a horrifically unsuccessful stint in England has experienced a revival of his career and blossoming of his game since returning to Major League Soccer with Seattle Sounders FC. His cross to Dempsey on the second goal was beautifully placed, his composure on the ball and touch is level above what it was three years ago and his ability to finish regardless of how he does it has him scoring at a rate similar to the early portion of his career. The result has been a saving grace for the U.S.
Clint Dempsey: Since straightening out his club football dilemma by signing with Tottenham Hotspur, Dempsey is back in top form. His runs, his knack for getting on the end of a pass and his nose for goal were involved in every U.S. goal of the night. Two goals and an assist is a sign he’s comfortable in the new system.
Herculez Gomez: His appearance last Friday was disturbing given his form in previous matches, but he did enough work in this one to show it was a one off. His touches were good and even though he didn’t score a goal, he was an active contributor throughout his time on the pitch.
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