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Sweet home Alabama after U.S. win

and his eighth in eight full international matches -- in the 11th minute, and New England Revolution midfielder Steve Ralston bagged the second for the U.S. in the 68th minute.

"We played a good game against Guatemala," Johnson said. "Unfortunately we didn´t convert all of our chances, but we did enough to get the three points. Guatemala was a worthy rival."

The United States took the initiative from the opening whistle, pushing the tempo and heaping pressure on the Guatemalan defense. San Jose Earthquakes striker Brian Ching could have gotten the scoring started in the third minute, but his header from an Eddie Lewis cross went just wide.

Eight minutes later, Johnson got the goal that seemed to be coming from the start, as Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni started the play with a ball up the right channel and Landon Donovan backheeled the ball into the middle of the box for and unmarked Johnson, who banged the ball in off the right post.

The U.S. nearly went into the locker room leading by two or three goals, but despite impressive service from wide men Ralston and Lewis, a series of the home side's efforts on goal went just wide. Ching had a handful of those chances, including a golden opportunity in the 35th minute when Lewis sent a first-time cross to the Hawaiian Superman, who was all alone in the box. Ching tried to volley the cross on frame, but the ball went wide of the near post.

Early in the second half, the Guatemalans found a slim crack in the U.S. rearguard as captain and Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Guillermo "El Pando" Ramirez served in a free kick for forward Dwight Pezzarossi. The target man got a head on the ball, but it was deflected over for a corner.

Five minutes past the hour mark, the Stars and Stripes were back on the attack. The U.S. team appeared to have doubled their lead as Lewis took a pass in acres of space on the left and served the ball in to a streaking Donovan. Donovan nodded the ball home, but the flag went up in spite of protests from the U.S.

A spree of end-to-end action followed the disallowed goal, starting with the first chance of the match from FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz and ending with Ralston's insurance goal. Ruiz, who was frustrated by defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Cory Gibbs throughout the game, broke through the back line on the right side of the box and fired a shot on target, but U.S. 'keeper Kasey Keller was on hand to preserve the U.S. lead.

Immediately following at the other end, a breathtaking sequence left the U.S. stunned to have neither a goal nor a call for what appeared to be a hand ball in the box. Lewis started the play with yet another cross, and Ralston saved it off the endline by tapping it to Donovan. Donovan backheeled the ball to Johnson, and the latter's shot was saved by Guatemalan 'keeper Richard Trigueno. A Guatemala defender tried to clear the ball, but slipped and appeared to contact the ball with his forearm before gathering himself to send the ball back out to the top of the box. Donovan attempted a shot, but it was blocked and floated back to Johnson, who tried a bicycle kick. Trigueno, who turned in an inspired performance despite the tremendous pressure on his net, somehow saved it, and the ball was finally cleared.

Just a minute later, though, the U.S. finished what they started as Ralston tapped home a Lewis cross that was flicked on by Johnson.

Ruiz's woes were compounded in the 73rd minute, when he was given a yellow card for diving in the box. The card means he will miss Guatemala's next match, which takes place on June 4 in Guatemala City against Mexico.

Pando nearly cut the visitors' gap in half twice late in the game, but one long range free kick in the 81st minute whistled wide of the far post, and Keller got down at the same post to save another blast in stoppage time.

Jason Halpin is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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