US backline bounces back but "sloppy goal" still rankles

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Speaking to the press following his side’s 3-1 victory against Guatemala, three points that sealed US’ place in the Hexagonal, Jurgen Klinsmann was generally pleased.

He was happy with the way his attacking trio of Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez harried the Guatemala backline. He was glad to see the US put together what was likely their most complete performance to date during this World Cup qualifying campaign.

But when asked what he made of Carlos Ruiz’s fifth-minute goal, Route 1 soccer that left the US backline in shambles just five minutes into the match, Klinsmann’s tone of voice changed and his facial expression soured.

“Obviously it didn’t need to happen after five minutes, no doubt about it. We actually trained that yesterday specifically, and still it happened,” he said. “This is soccer. Anything can happen. You can train it 100 times and still it can happen. But I was obviously not happy with it.”

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Neither were the players who watched the breakdown occur in front of their eyes.

After a giveaway along the sideline by Michael Bradley, Guatemala wasted no time exploiting the sizable gap between Geoff Cameron and Carlos Bocanegra. What began as an innocuous play ended with Ruiz running onto José Manuel Contreras’ chipped ball over the top, rounding Tim Howard and putting the Americans in a hole they practically dug for themselves.

“It was not even a chance,” Steve Cherundolo said. “We kind of gave them a goal. We had numerous opportunities to defend that play, and I think we kind of fell asleep there defensively for a short moment. We started the game in a very good fashion, and we put them under pressure right away. So to have them score, I think it kind of surprised them as well.”

The capacity crowd of 16,947 was certainly surprised, a hush coming over Livestrong Sporting Park as the Guatemalans celebrated an against-all-odds opener.

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“It was just a sloppy goal,” Howard said. “There wasn’t enough pressure on the ball. We needed to probably drop our line and play a little bit more safe. Credit to Carlos Ruiz, he finished it well. You get frustrated, but sometimes when goals get scored early on, that’s the best time for them to score. It’s still a level game really.”

Fortunately for the US, they wasted no time leveling through Bocanegra then pulling away as Clint Dempsey effectively put the game to bed with two gimmes inside the six-yard box.

“When we went down early, it’s not what we wanted, but none of the guys put their heads down,” Bocanegra said. “We knew we were going to get goals against these guys tonight. Luckily, they came quite quickly afterward [we fell behind].”