WCQ Recap: US rally to topple Guatemala 3-1, reach Hex

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – They went down a goal after just five minutes and put an early scare into the 16,947 fans at Livestrong Sporting Park. But the US national team did what they had to do on Tuesday night, rallying for a 3-1 victory over Guatemala and booking a place in the final round of 2014 World Cup qualifying.

Behind a brace from Clint Dempsey and an early equalizer from Carlos Bocanegra, the US finished on top of Group A in the third round of CONACAF qualifying with 13 points. The result, coupled with Jamaica’s 4-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda, eliminated Guatemala on goal difference and ensured the Reggae Boyz will be joining the Americans in the CONCACAF Hexagonal.

The US started brightly, with Dempsey and Eddie Johnson showing off a keen understanding up top, but a miscommunication opened the door for Guatemala to take a shocking lead just five minutes into the match.

OPTA Chalkboard: US abuse Guatemala down the flanks

A blind pass down the right sideline from Michael Bradley gifted possession to Erwin Morales. He quickly found José Manuel Contreras, who turned and recognized that Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron were caught out of position. Predictably, it was former MLSer Carlos Ruiz who made the run that cut the US asunder, running onto Contreras' ball over the top, shimmying past Tim Howard and slipping the ball into an open net.

But the US didn’t put their heads down – although there were certainly some frank discussions following the goal – and were rewarded for their graft just five minutes later after Herculez Gomez hustled to win a corner kick. With Guatemala zone-marking in the area, Dempsey rose to nod Graham Zusi’s whipped ball across the six-yard box, where Bocanegra was waiting to poke in the equalizer.

And although Ruiz continued to be a thorn in the US’ side, it was Johnson and Dempsey who struck the blow that put the home side ahead for good in the 18th minute.

After Steve Cherundolo slipped the Seattle striker into acres of space on the right flank, Johnson picked his head up and slotted a perfect ball across the box for his teammates to attack. Gomez’s near-post run drew a defender, giving Dempsey plenty of time and space to bundle the ball past Guatemala ‘keeper Ricardo Jérez.

Both teams traded half-chances for the next 20 minutes, with Johnson and Ruiz the spearheads for their respective sides, before the US tore the Guatemalan defense apart with a flowing move down the right channel.

FULL LINEUPS AND BOXSCORE

The fatal blow came after Bradley dummied Zusi’s right-angle ball across the top of the 18-yard box, opening up space for Gomez to return the favor with a first-time pass that left the Guatemalans standing still. Bradley’s chip from a tight angle appeared to be goal-bound, but Dempsey was there at the back post to make doubly sure, tapping the ball in for a 3-1 lead.

Guatemala’s best chance to pull a goal back came didn’t come until the 66th minute, as Howard initially spilled a garden-variety shot from Contreras before sticking a foot out to clear the ball out of the path of the onrushing Minor López.

Minutes later, the US had a legitimate penalty shout waved off after Bradley appeared to be taken down at the edge of the penalty area. In the end, though, it didn’t matter, as Jamaica’s three-goal victory ensured their place in the Hex at Guatemala’s expense without the help of a fourth US goal.

MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match

Rank Player What We Saw
1 Clint Dempsey There's the Deuce we were missing. His brace was part of his best performance in a US shirt in nine months.
2 Michael Bradley If you're going to make one mistake, might as well make it early. He was a terror after his early giveaway.
3 Carlos Ruiz Love him or hate him (and we know which you likely are), "El Pescadito" knows how to make a game of it.