After giving up an early goal to Guatemala in the sixth minute, the Yanks quickly responded with three goals in 26 minutes, cruising to a crucial victory that made them winners of Group A.
Former MLS MVP Carlos Ruiz shocked the Kansas City home crowd by sneaking behind the US defensive line and having a free run to goal, putting the US down 1-0 in the 5th minute. The US responded was offensive pressure that led to a brilliant set piece goal off a Graham Zusi corner, which Clint Dempsey headed towards a wide open Carlos Bocanegra. The captain sliced the ball into the back of the net becoming the all-time leading goal scorer for US defenders.
The entire stadium took relief in Bocanegra’s 10th minute goal while the US continued to pressure the Guatemala defense with late runs from attackers.
Eight minutes later, Eddie Johnson switched to the right wing getting past the defense and crossed the ball to a streaking Clint Dempsey. The Tottenham Hotspur forward corralled the ball flicking it over the keeper for his fourth goal in the qualifiers.
The road to Brazil seemed as wide as ever in the Klinsmann era as the Yanks controlled the ball throughout the 90 minutes of play. Dempsey continued his brilliant evening with a give-and-go touch between Herculez Gomez and Michael Bradley giving the forward Dempsey with a simple toe-in to finish Bradley’s initial touch.
The Yanks had multiple chances throughout the night, but the first half dominance sealed a 3-1 victory that the fans and players could take pride in.
But over a month ago the United States was not in as comfortable position, staring down an unforeseen challenging road to 2014 Brazil. A 2-1 upset loss in Jamaica on September 7th put the United States in third place with only one victory in three matches. Doubt and frustration swirled around the team and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, questioning of the unexpected difficulties in the beginning stages of qualifying.
The Yanks returned the favor to Jamaica three says later with a 1-0 victory in Columbus setting up needed victories in October to safely enter the next round of World Cup qualifications.
As things seemed to be coming back to normal, Klinsmann faced another set back in the October training camp by losing four players in a 36 hour period, which created an awkward first session when only 11 players showed up on the pitch. With the loss of Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Edgar Castillo and Fabian Johnson, Klinsmann’s roster choices were growing slim. Even more criticism came towards Klinsmann’s roster with his decision to leave AZ Alkmaar striker Jozy Altidore off the roster.
Wether luck or genius, Klinsmann’s replacement of Altidore was the move that help the US close qualifying on a winning note. After a resurgence in MLS, former US international forward Eddie Johnson continued his comeback story with two goals in the first October match versus Antigua and Barbuda. The road victory gave the US a share of the lead in Group A and a chance to be in control of their own destiny.
A rocky road since early September ended in a relieving exhale last night for fans and members of the US squad. The exciting pace on the pitch and dynamic chemistry between Dempsey, Johnson, and Gomez gave supporters hope for less nail biting contests in the future.
The United States will move on the nicknamed “hexagonal” stage executed in round robin style where each team plays the other five teams. The top three point earning teams will automatically advance to the World Cup, with the fourth place team entering in a play-off.
The fourth round will mean tougher competition that includes rivals Mexico, goal scorers from Honduras, and former Group A companions Jamaica. The struggles of the group stages will need to be forgotten for the US or else fans can expect an even more treacherous road to Brazil.