The US national team brushed aside some early worries to waltz their way to the decisive CONCACAF hexagonal with a largely satisfying victory over Guatemala on Tuesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City.
While it looked early as though supporters would be running out of fingernails for chewing, the US wasted little time and effort taking control to put the 2014 World Cup locomotive back on track.
Tim Howard (5) - Despite going untroubled for long stretches, it was an off night for the Everton star. He got hooked out on the goal, launched one troublesome kick, punched straight to a shooter on one occasion and had to cover quickly for his own spill.
Steve Cherundolo (7) - Again the top backliner of the night, the Hannover 96 skipper helped make the winning goal play with a sterling lead pass for assist man Eddie Johnson. Cherundolo supported the offense well all night and was nearly faultless in defense.
Geoff Cameron (5) - After a highly disconcerting first half, the right center back was altogether solid after the break. However, I'm still trying to figure out what he was doing on the Guatemala goal.
Carlos Bocanegra (5.5) - Like his partner, the first US goalscorer was better defensively in the second frame. As the veteran, the US camptain does need to take responsibility for some communication breakdowns.
Michael Parkhurst (5.5) - While a constant nuisance in attack, the left back du jour had a few alarming defensive episodes.
Daniel Williams (7) - The Hoffenheim midfielder played splendidly with the ball, keeping things both simple and moving.
Michael Bradley (7) - The General's midfield movement was one of the keys to the night's success. He was also sharp in the build once he got the ball.
Graham Zusi (6.5) - Most of the hometown favorite's balls into the area asked questions of the defense, including platter service of a near post corner on the equalizer. Zusi again faded as the game went on, but not so much as the other night.
Eddie Johnson (7.5) - Has Klinsmann found us a "new" winger? Johnson was better overall than on Friday and his one-time cross for Dempsey was money.
Clint Dempsey (7.5) - Deuce earned a pair of simple finish goals and the assist by getting back to attacking the goalmouth Texas style. The Spurs ace was also quite incisive in link play.
Herculez Gomez (6.5) - It was a very clever outing from the Santos Laguna forward, who did a lot more damage to the Guatemala defense than overtly meets the eye.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann (5) - Hopefully, we will never see the "vertical spine" alignment again. It was highly troubling to see the coach try that misguided set-up a second time, making the early away goal rather predictable.
In truth, the players rose above the tactics until Klinsi wisely switched things up to something more appropriate around the hour mark – a more reliable system is needed for all those games ahead when we won't have 74 percent possession. Still, the boss did have his charges in the right frame of mind from the go and they never looked like slipping with the two-goal lead.
FYI: This grade includes a deduction for not calling any replacements with four wide players on the camp roster unavailable for the game. That was just unnecessarily reckless, even if it all worked out in the end.
Sacha Kljestan (6) - Was decent, but without a cutting edge until his tricky shot from the right channel forced a good save.
Maurice Edu (6) - Subbed in on the left, the Stoke man played cleanly and sprung an attack with a good switch.
Joe Corona (-) - His cameo was barely long enough to pop a cold one with lime wedge.