GUATEMALA CITY — In international soccer, plenty can change in 45 minutes.
For evidence, witness Marco Pappa's game changing performance on Tuesday night, from displeased occupant of Coach Ever Almeida's doghouse to man of the match in a 1-1 draw with the US that secured a vital point for La Bicolor.
The Chicago Fire midfielder is one of the few creative players Guatemala can turn to for an offensive spark. But he spent the first half of the home tie against the USA watching from the bench as Jurgen Klinsmann’s side controlled the tempo on the field at Estadio Mateo Flores, and Guatemala's dream of a first-ever World Cup slipped slowly away.
But with the hosts trailing by a goal at the half, Almeida stepped away from his defensive game plan, inserting the freewheeling Pappa for Mario Rodríguez. The decision changed the complexion of the match immediately.
"The changes were important, he made all the changes at once and it improved the thing," said midfielder Marvin Ávila. "Pappa in particular was important to us in getting the offense started."
Pappa was a livewire from introduction, menacing the US defense constantly as he shifted his point of attack from the left wing to the right and back, looking to set up Carlos Ruiz or find a shot himself.
The Chicago Fire star nearly manufactured a goal in the 68th minute, when his shot from range was deflected just wide of Tim Howard's goal. The resulting corner bounded dangerously around the area and was eventually skied over the bar by Ruiz. The equalizer in the 82nd minute would come directly from the MLSer's foot, as Pappa stepped up to a 25-yard set piece and ripped an inch-perfect shot over the wall, leaving Howard helpless.
"A beautiful free kick," was American coach Jurgen Klinsmann's simple and accurate assessment.
Never one for an excess of words himself, Pappa was slow to take credit for what he called a team effort.
"We deserved the tie," he said. "It's not an individual effort when you get something from a team like the United States. We're glad to be in the fight and we're just anticipating more good results in the next games."
The effort that got Guatemala the much-needed point at home was an all around battle, no doubt, with the defense coming up big, and Ruiz active as always. But Pappa's teammates were quicker to admit that without him on the field, things were looking pretty dim for La Bicolor.
"He's a player that can do different things, and the free kick that he took was just a little demonstration of what he's capable of," said defender Luis Rodríguez. "He gave us a tie that keeps us alive, and leaves us depending on ourselves."