Posted on October 17, 2012
By Michael Lewis
KANSAS CITY, Kansas – Clint Dempsey led a comeback from an early deficit by scoring two goals and setting up a third to spark the United States to a 3-1 win over Guatemala and into the final CONCACAF round of World Cup qualifying on Tuesday night.
The Americans (4-1-1, 13 points) clinched the CONCACAF Group A semifinal title, while Guatemala (3-2-1, 10) finished third and was eliminated. Jamaica, which defeated Antigua & Barbuda at home, 4-1, qualified as the other Group A side to reach next year’s hexagonal.
Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz, long a thorn in the side of the U.S., stunned and silenced the sellout crowd of 16,947 in the fifth minute. He took a through ball from Jose Manuel Contreras, beat the U.S. defense went around the left side of the penalty area, forcing goalkeeper Tim Howard to commit himself before he tucked the ball into the unattended net.
While celebrating his 56th international goal, a joyous Ruiz hit his hand against the advertising boards behind the goal at Livestrong Sporting Park and wound on the ground for several minutes. He eventually got up and continued play, but never really threatened again the rest of the half.
The U.S., however, equalized five minutes later. Graham Zusi, a hometown favorite and standout with Sporting Kansas City, sent a corner kick into the penalty area that Clint Dempsey headed down. Central defender Carlos Bocanegra found himself with plenty of space in front of the net and he slotted home the ball past goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez in the 10th minute.
The goal was Bocanegra’s 14th at the international level, breaking the record for U.S. defenders he held with Marcelo Balboa.
The Americans did not wait long to take the lead. Right back Steve Cherundolo started the scoring sequence by setting up Eddie Johnson, who raced down the right flank before sending the ball into the area. An onrushing Clint Dempsey got a step on defender Jonathan Lopez and knocked the ball into the net for a 2-1 advantage in the 18th minute.
Howard was tested in the 21st minute, when he swatted away Contreras’s attempt. He had to go high in the air to knock away Ruben Morales’ long-range blast a minute later, but the Guatemalans were called for a foul.
Demspey and the U.S. were far from through. Herculez Gomez found an open Michael Bradley on the right side of the area and the central midfielder fired a shot that going into the net that Dempsey tucked in for his second goal of the match and 30th of his international career for a 3-1 lead in the 36th minute.
In an attempt to pump some life into his team at halftime, Guatemala Ever Hugo Almeida made two halftime substitutions. Midfielder Marco Pappa, who surprisingly started the game on the bench despite being considered the team’s best player, replaced Carlos Figueroa. Forward Minor Lopez came on for midfielder Mario Rodriguez.
Despite the fresh legs, it was the Americans who took the initiative and forced the issue. Jerez was forced to make a two-handed save on a Danny Williams’ blast from distance in the 56th minute before Dempsey barely missed connected with a right-wing cross from Gomez to complete his hat-trick only seconds later.
Photo: Clint Dempsey had two goals and an assist for the USA. Andy Mead/YCJ
Categories: Central America, Guatemala, North America, U.S.A., World Cup Qualifying
Tags: Carlos Ruiz, Clint Dempsey, Eddie Johnson, Herculez Gomez, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, World Cup qualifying