U.S. shortcomings are exposed in 1-1 qualifying draw with Guatemala.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, June 13, 2012) -- The United States men took a lead on a first-half goal from striker Clint Dempsey, but had to settle for a unsatisfactory draw with Guatemala last night at a CONCACAF semifinal-round World Cup Group A qualifying match before an estimated 18,000 at Estadio Mateo Flores in Guatemala City.
There was little consolation for the Americans that they have now gone 18 matches (12-0-6) without losing to Guatemala.
This was a match, however, the U.S. should have won. Guatemala's tying goal came on a late free kick after an unnecessary foul. The real problem for U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann is his attack remains largely absent and while he can win at this level the way his team is playing, there are storm clouds in the future.
"I think we saw quite an exciting game," Klinsmann said. "I think the game was open for most of the stretch of it. Obviously, with the lead one-nil, you want to win it, you want to bring the three points home. We came for three points, but I think at the end of the day, the tie, based on all the chances on both sides, is OK."
The U.S. last night was up against a most unorthodox opponent in Guatemala coach Éver Almeida, a Paraguayan who last coached the Guatemala under-20 side that eliminated the Americans from world championship qualifying. His teams believe in defense first, using essentially five defenders, clogging up the midfield and oddly, both in this match and Friday's 2-1 loss in Jamaica, he used all three of his substitutions at halftime.
Playing at home after an opening loss, one might have expected Guatemala to come out flying and full of emotion. Instead, from the start and through most of the first half, the U.S. dominated, at least in terms of possession. Yet, time after time, the Americans lost the ball in the final third and, as a result, neither goalkeeper was much bothered.
As he had against Antigua & Barbuda on Friday, Klinsmann played Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez up front with Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the midfield. With Donovan and Dempsey dropping into the midfield and staying wide, the U.S. effectively had a lone striker in Gomez who seemed to move from the left side to the right and back again, but rarely settled in the middle. This meant the U.S. offense was mainly down the wings. With a clogged middle, and with Dempsey double-teamed at all times, the result was no shots on goal.
In fact, the U.S. had only three shots on goal all night and this against keeper Ricardo Jerez, Jr., who looked shaky from the start.
Dempsey's goal was coolly executed. Fabian Johnson, who started at left back, went on a 50-yard run. He fed Dempsey, who sidestepped a pair of defenders who dove in, opening some space for him to easily beat Jerez.
In the second half, Klinsmann replaced Gomez with Jozy Altidore, who stayed in the middle and helped stretch the Guatemalan defense in ways Gomez had not. But it was mostly for naught as the U.S. rarely threatened.
One of the three substitutes Almeida made to start the second half was to bring on midfielder Marco Pappa of Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire. He was quite simply was the best player for either team over the final 45 minutes.
When Guatemala forward Carlos Ruiz was fouled by Johnson about 25 yards out, Pappa took the direct kick and drove it over an eight-man defensive wall and under a corner of the crossbar with as pretty a free kick as might be seen.
At times in the second half, Guatemala threatened the U.S. goal. The American defenders seemed to have some problems with corner kicks and other set pieces, requiring Howard to make a couple of fine saves.
If the U.S. had added a second goal early in the second half, it could have coasted to victory. Now, it will continue to have to work hard in this round of qualifying. At least, Klinsmann has all summer to try to figure out where his offense is, since the U.S. does not have a match until September 7 at Jamaica in Kingston.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 7.5: He made a pair of sensational saves to keep the U.S. in the match and actually had to work hard for the final 45 minutes.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 5.5: An extremely up-and-down night. Returning from injury, Johnson, at times, was great on defense and he repeatedly pushed well forward into the attack. At other times, he was out of position and needed bailing out. His foul against Ruiz, leading to the equalizer, was completely unnecessary. He obviously can do the job, now he needs consistency.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 6: He picked up a yellow card early and that limited him, which resulted in his coming off at the half. Yet, he was in position most of the time and handled the physical pressure well.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: He protected a lot of ground defensively, covering for Johnson when he went forward. He was solid, as usual, and made defensive stops and clearances when he had to.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: People complain he is old and slow, but on several occasions he raced deep into the offensive zone, beating defenders. He had little problem defensively and gave as good as he took in the physical battle.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5.5: For the second match in a row, he did not distinguish himself either offensively or defensively, but at the same time, except occasionally giving up the ball, he did little wrong.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: As was the case in Friday's decision over Antigua and Barbuda, he was called on to play more defensively then he might have wished. He struggled to get into the attack and was successful some of the time. He tried several shots from distance, but all were far off target.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 6: More than any other American, he took a physical pounding with the referee usually looking away. As a result, his game was choppy. He was very strong on defense, less so offensively where his usual crisp passing was off. But he came out of a very physical match without a yellow card, something of a miracle considering how often he was fouled late.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6.5: He played most of the game with two defenders draped all over him and almost no space in which to operate. He was fouled badly often, but he kept getting up and getting on with the game. His goal was very workmanlike.
Forward Landon Donovan - 5: He was very active and very much into the game for most of the night, but his corner kicks and crosses were off target more than usual and he seemed to have a problem with the physical play. On several occasions, when he got a step or two toward goal, he passed rather than shot.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 5.5 He worked hard, but was not very effective. He saw little of the ball and when he did, he could only hold it as he looked to pass. He often was not in position to go for goal.
Defender Geoff Cameron (46th minute for Goodson) - 5: This substitution shows how little Klinsmann thinks of Oguchi Onyewu at this point. Cameron was a bit shaky, but did better than in his last appearance against Scotland. He could have better range and he seemed to stay at home out of fear of committing an error.
Forward Jozy Altidore (64th minute for Gomez) - 4: Maybe it's the lack of practice time, but he had little chemistry with his teammates. He did create space for himself, but twice pulled up his runs just when teammates were about to give him the ball and send him in alone on the keeper. He again had little impact on the match.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman (90th minute for Donovan) - no rating: A time-wasting substitution in the dying seconds.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Tim Howard.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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