Dempsey leads U.S. from early deficit past Guatemala to qualifying finals.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, October 17, 2012) -- The United States men gave up an early goal, but came roaring back to defeat Guatemala 3-1 last night and advanced to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying in front of 16,947 at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kan.
The U.S. won Group A with a 4-1-1 record and 13 points in the semifinal round. Guatemala's two-goal loss, coupled with Jamaica's 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda allowed Jamaica to also advance. Both teams finished 3-2-1 with 10 points, but the Reggae Boyz's goal differential was one better.
The U.S. attack spurred an immediate comeback after a combination of errors allowed Guatemala an early goal by Carlos Ruiz. One key to the American victory was the work rate of midfielder Eddie Johnson. He was constantly in motion and, as a result, stretched the Guatemalan defense, allowing space for forward Clint Dempsey, who had a huge match with two goals after assisting defender Carlos Bocanegra's equalizer.
Another key to the revitalized U.S. offense was moving Danny Williams, who played on the wing on Friday in the 2-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda, back into the center where he is more comfortable playing in front of the back four. That allowed midfielder Michael Bradley more freedom to move forward and to play a more central role in the U.S. attack.
The American lineup on paper, and what unfolded, was markedly different in the midfield. Graham Zusi played on the right flank while, despite being listed as a forward, Eddie Johnson played on the other wing. Dempsey then pushed forward from his position in the center of midfield, essentially playing as a forward.
At times Johnson and Zusi switched sides to substantial advantage. While defenders on the U.S. left were looking for Johnson, he came out of the right, surprising defenders on that side. This is the kind of position switching that Klinsmann likes. At times, Dempsey would pull back and Johnson would play on top with Herculez Gomez. This kind of interchange is how Klinsmann wants to play.
Gomez and Dempsey formed an effective partnership tonight. Dempsey showed how effective he can be when he is given space. Most importantly, he had the ball delivered to him where and when he wanted it, something too often absent in recent matches.
The goal given up to Ruiz in the fifth minute was dreadful and resulted from a comedy of errors. To start, the U.S. was throwing everything forward into attack. Williams pushed ahead, leaving the center of the American defense exposed.
There was a lack of communication between Bocanegra and fellow central defender Geoff Cameron as to whom would go with Ruiz as he started his run to capture a long pass over the top. This put Bocanegra a step behind the speedy Ruiz. Goalkeeper Tim Howard hesitated before he came off his line as Bocanegra backed, thinking Howard would take charge. All this allowed Ruiz to cut left and go around Howard before touching the ball into the open net.
Once again, because of injuries, Klinsmann had to juggle his back-line. Bocanegra was moved back into the middle and Michael Parkhurst was inserted at left back. After everyone started working on the same page, the defense was sound, holding Guatemala to four shots on goal for the night.
"I think the performance overall was very good," Klinsmann said. "We did not need (to give up) that first goal -- that was not necessary. The good thing was that (the U.S.) responded right away and turned things around immediately and that calmed things down. . . I wish there would've been a fourth goal to kill it off, but overall I'm very pleased. The players responded well. Their attitude overall the last couple days has been very positive. The team is growing and supporting each other."
The 13 points the U.S. totaled in the semifinal round's six matches was the same number of points it had in the semifinals four years ago on its way to South Africa.
"We expected a very difficult qualifying campaign and that's what it is," Klinsmann said. "We discussed it a couple days ago. We didn't necessarily get it down to the wire in the first stage, but that's how soccer works. If you give away a game like we did in Jamaica, then you have to pay the price for it a little while and you have to correct it.
"We go through now in first place and we made things clear that we were the No. 1 team in this group. The next round will be even tougher. You have very good teams in there. Every game will be a battle, every game will be a fight and we are ready for that. It's just a normal path that you go through and you take a lot of new experience with that. Players grow and coaches learn, and it's just normal."
It should be noted that on only three occasions in his 20 matches as U.S. coach has Klinsmann had both Dempsey and midfielder Landon Donovan on the field at the same time. It's interesting to consider how potent the Americans might have been last night had Donovan not injured his knee.
Little noticed was a yellow card handed out by Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno to Dempsey for faking a dive in the match's dying moments. The card is significant because yellow cards carry over into the next round, meaning that if Dempsey gets another he will have to sit out a match. The same holds true for midfielders Bradley, Zusi and Maurice Edu, and defender Fabian Johnson.
That is a worry for four months in the future. Klinsmann can take some time to look at additional players who might help -- maybe German-American defender Timmy Chandler will see the light and join the squad -- and Klinsmann can work to find a consistent offense that has been largely absent in the just completed semifinal round.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5: The usually unflappable keeper looked rattled at times and made uncharacteristic errors -- on the goal by Ruiz and in the second half in his failure to hold a shot. A decidedly off-night.
Defender Michael Parkhurst - 6: On defense, he was consistently good all night, allowing Guatemala little on his side of the field. He is not really well suited to play on the left side, so he was ineffectual going forward, but he put in a solid defensive effort.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra -- 5: Was horribly at fault on the Ruiz goal, but he was able to organize the defense well thereafter. He was on the spot to score the crucial first U.S. goal, quickly answering the Ruiz strike. He had an awful first five minutes, but a good last 85.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 5.5: After a shaky start, he settled in and was especially effective over the final 45 minutes. In that second half, he was well positioned and made several key defensive stops.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 7: He had a terrific match. He shut down the Guatemala attack on his right side while frequently being able to get forward on offense. He had the best pass of the night in hitting Johnson in stride for a cross to Dempsey and a goal.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 6: Once things got organized after the early Guatemala goal, he was very effective in playing what for him is his most natural position, centrally in front of the defense. He did well covering for defenders either pushing forward or being pulled wide in coverage.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7: There remains no question he has established himself as the central cog in the U.S. attack. He has the ability to distribute the ball from deep in the defensive end or to move forward and take on defenders. He is becoming a true No. 10 for the U.S., something that has been lacking.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 6: Once again, he showed he can play at this level. He again had an excellent passing night, but he faded in the second half and seemed to be running nearly on empty by the time he came out in the 78th minute. No, he will not replace a healthy Landon Donovan, but he has showed he is capable of stepping in when asked.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 8: When he puts his mind to it, and works for 90 minutes, he is a star and capable of carrying the team almost alone. Tonight was one of those nights. He maintained a high work rate over the entire match and was simply too much for Guatemala to handle.
Forward Eddie Johnson - 6.5: He was a problem for the Guatemala defense all night. He moved with pace during the first half, but slowed a bit in the second where, with better finishing, he should have scored, perhaps twice. Overall, though, he had a good game.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 6: He came back from a poor effort against Antigua & Barbuda on Friday with a solid match tonight. He formed a strong partnership with Dempsey and his passing was sharp all night. He showed that his role is as much as a set-up man than as a goal scorer himself.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (66th minute for Gomez) - 5.5: Essentially, he came in as another defensive midfielder to help preserve the U.S. lead. He was effective in that role and worked hard to kill off the match.
Midfielder Maurice Edu (78th minute for Zusi) - 5.5: His role also was to help run the clock out and he did it well.
Forward Joe Corona (90th minute for Johnson) - no rating: A combination of time wasting and a reward for hard work in training camp as the match entered stoppage time.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Clint Dempsey.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
Do you have a comment on this story or something to say about soccer in general? Send us a letter.