KANSAS CITY, Kan. – This wasn't just the result the United States needed. It was the performance they needed, too.
Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over Guatemala did more than put the US national team into the Hexagonal round that will determine CONCACAF's contingent in the 2014 World Cup. It also showed that they could take an early punch, respond quickly and roll to a decisive victory at crunch time.
“We talked about this game being one where we didn't want to do the minimal to get the result,” midfielder Graham Zusi told reporters. “We wanted to come out here and score some goals and really take it to them and win the game.”
That's the approach the US took from the outset, pressuring the visitors hard in the opening minutes – only to see Carlos Ruiz slip behind the back line and put Guatemala up 1-0 just five minutes in.
But with Carlos Bocanegra's equalizer just five minutes later, and Clint Dempsey's brace in the 18th and 36th minutes, the US wasted little time in re-establishing control en route to their third straight win since dropping a 2-1 decision in Jamaica on Sept. 7.
It was the biggest margin of victory since beating Antigua and Barbuda, 3-1, on June 8.
“It's nice to finish with a win and to see the things we do well,” veteran right back Steve Cherundolo said. “Typically we play well at home, combine well and create a lot of chances, and I think we saw a lot of that tonight. It was the right answer. Nonetheless, we have to learn from our mistakes in this round.”
The US could have advanced with a draw, but coach Jurgen Klinsmann would rather have had a berth in the Hex booked before Tuesday night.
“We didn't want to get it down to the wire in this stage, but in soccer that's how it works,” the US coach said in the postgame news conference. “If you give away a game like we did down in Jamaica, you pay the price for it for a little while and you have to correct it, and the guys corrected it. We go through now in first place, and we made things clear that we were the No. 1 team.”
In this qualifying group, at least. Next comes the Hex, with a field that includes archrival Mexico, 2010 World Cup participants Honduras and the same Jamaica team that beat the US in Kingston last month.
“I say this without any arrogance: We feel we're the best team in the region,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “Mexico feels that they are. In order to do that, you've got to go out every game. You can't have off games. We've just got to be better at putting together good performances more consistently.”
Besides technical consistency, Dempsey said, the US have to maintain the sense of urgency they brought to the pitch against Guatemala.
“It's important to keep that winning mentality and the same fight that we showed tonight,” he said. “We have to bring that every game.”