In the early stages of their emphatic 2-0 win Wednesday night in Birmingham, Alabama, the US looked as if they would have to scratch and claw themselves to a win against an ever-improving, and annoyingly physical Guatemala.
Inexplicably, Guatemala escaped the match largely unpunished by the Trinidad and Tobago refereeing crew; however, a clearly superior US regained their confidence, and should hush any doubters for the time being.
Controlling Ruiz: For starters, we knew that Carlos Ruiz would be a handful. Though he did his best to bring attention to himself with his constant flopping, he couldn’t have been counting on Oguchi Onyewu, who was a human wall in battling Ruiz tooth-and-nail for 90 minutes. Clearly underlisted in the US media guide as 6’2" 180 lbs. (he’s more like 6’4" and 210 lbs.), Onyewu won nearly every air battle with Ruiz and held El Pescadito in check.
US Transformation : That was the real story, as the US, clearly subdued and cautious three days earlier in Mexico City, were a more vibrant and attack-oriented team in Birmingham. A red-hot Eddie Johnson benefited from a neatly orchestrated move to put the US ahead in the 11th minute. Brian Ching sent a through-ball to Landon Donovan, who cleverly flicked the ball back into Johnson’s path for him to finish off the left post and in the goal. The US continued their domination through fantastic flank play from Eddie Lewis, Steve Cherundolo and Steve Ralston, and had numerous chances–including near misses by Ching and Ralston–to stretch that lead throughout the first half.
Guatemalan Dive Show : As for Guatemala, their chances consisted–more or less–of waiting for Trinidad and Tobago referee Ramesh Ramdhan to fall for one of their dives around the box and convert from there. Nothing came of what little opportunities they had, and were lucky to be trailing the US just 1-0 at the interval.
The second half was more of the same, as the US had some glorious opportunities to extend their advantage. In the 62nd minute, Lewis, with his favored left foot, skied a seven-yard shot over the bar. The US sustained their pressure, and looked to have scored in the 65th minute, as Lewis and Donovan hooked up, with the newest LA Galaxy forward (see, he’s not dead yet) heading past Guatemala goalkeeper Richard Trigueno; an offside decision, however, nullified the goal. Replays verified the call, though it was close.
It wouldn’t matter soon enough.
A minute later, Guatemala got away with a clear handball in the box, but the US didn’t give up on the play. A wide-open Johnson got to the ball and put an acrobatic bicycle kick on goal, only for Trigueno to save the shot in sensational fashion. Two minutes later, the US broke through for their second goal, as Johnson’s neat back flick header hit Ralston in stride, and he poked the ball past an onrushing Trigueno to seal the win for Bruce Arena and Co.
Increased Confidence For US : Overall, this was a big confidence boost as the US bounced back and faced some adversity with the ridiculously lousy officiating and still had enough poise to pull out a big result. Combined with the surprising draws in the rest of the group–Costa Rica/Trinidad & Tobago (0-0) and Mexico/Panama (1-1)–the US jumped to second place, trailing their south-of-the-border rivals by a single point with a June 4 showdown against Costa Rica in Salt Lake City next on the docket.