Despite running out a large number of players making their debuts in a World Cup qualifying match, the USA played Guatemala to a scoreless draw on Wednesday night at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City.
Having already clinched a berth in the 2006 FIFA World Cup with their 2-0 victory against Mexico last weekend, U.S. manager Bruce Arena sent out four players making their first-ever qualifying appearances in Jimmy Conrad (Kansas City Wizards), Jeff Cunningham (Colorado Rapids), Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) and Marcus Hahnemann. In addition to those four, Santino Quaranta (D.C. United) and Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman (both New England Revolution) were making their first appearances as starters in World Cup play.
Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder Guillermo Ramirez played only the first half for Guatemala, while FC Dallas striker Carlos Ruiz was suspended for yellow card accumulation. With the draw, Guatemala all but saw their dreams of a direct berth into the World Cup finals ended, the chapines now with eight points, five behind Costa Rica with two games left, though they still hold onto fourth place and a spot in the playoff against the winner of the Asian playoff between Uzbekistan and Bahrain.
There was little between the two teams in the first half, played in a steady rain that made for some slick conditions. The USA's best chance came in the 39th minute when Bobby Convey hit a cross from the left flank into the area that was poorly punched by Guatemalan goalkeeper Miguel Klee. Dempsey tried to send the ball goalward with a bicycle kick but the chance was deflected.
Prior to that, Hahnemann made a great save from close range in the 30th minute on Juan Carlos Plata, who was trying to score unmarked from 12 yards after a nifty back heel from forward Mario Acevedo eluded the U.S. defense.
Although neither team could break the scoreless deadlock, both teams hit shots off the woodwork in the second half. Convey rocked the crossbar from 33 yards on a free kick in the 55th minute and Edwin Villatoro hit a rocket off the base of the left post in stoppage time after cutting a ball around Conrad inside the penalty area.
Twellman had a great chance in the 65th minute to break the ice for the U.S., but couldn't tap an excellent cross from Chris Albright into an unguarded net, instead lobbing the ball just high.
Hahnemann made five saves in the match, none bigger than a diving left-handed swat of a well-placed Julio Giron effort in the 71st minute.
Another U.S. chance came in the 81st minute, with second-half sub Eddie Johnson (FC Dallas) snapping a header just wide of the goal from eight yards out after a nice buildup from Twellman and the Galaxy's Landon Donovan (another second-half sub) after an errant Guatemala clearance.
"I thought it was a well played game for both teams," said Arena. "Both teams had chances in the second half. I thought our team had a much improved effort in the last 45 minutes.
"The rule of thumb in qualifying is that if you get a point on the road, you have done well. I'm satisfied with the result. It is always difficult to play on the road, and we made 11 changes to the team that played against Mexico (on Saturday)."