The United States' men's national team has qualified, at the last possible opportunity, for the final round of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. They did it with some style, too, scoring three beautiful goals against Guatemala, after going behind early.
When Carlos Ruiz ran through for the only Guatemala score in the first few minutes, the commentators seemed to think that a long night was ahead for the US. I won't say I wasn't worried, but I did have some confidence that the defensive mess-up between Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron would prove to be a one-off thing. I remember just how easily the US defense used to panic, continually, under previous coaching regimes; and despite some so-so performances during this qualifying stage, I still have not seen a recurrence of the kind of desperate random defending that used to characterize our team whenever pressure came upon them suddenly, or lasted longer than the time it takes to take a single shot.
My confidence was justified, and I feel oh, so self-important now for having had that much faith in these guys, and in the head coach, Jurgen Klinsmann. Yes, we still need to strengthen that defense; it'd be great if we could get a left back who can stay healthy, and the men who will represent us in Brazil (I'm pretty confident we'll get through the last stage; we only have to finish in the top three of six) need to play together as much as possible. Presumably it will be that same pairing of Bocanegra and Cameron.
my choice for man of the match
(photo from IMSOccer News)
But the real story tonight was at the other end of the pitch, where Clint Dempsey scored a pair and Bocanegra his 14th national-team goal. If I were handing out the kinds of ratings that most soccer web sites use ... well, what the Hell, I will:
Tim Howard: 7
He wasn't challenged often, and was left badly exposed on Guatemala's one goal by bad play between our center backs, but he otherwise made the saves, including one very lucky and sharp foot-save after misjudging the shot.
Michael Parkhurst: 5
Carlos Bocanegra: 6
Whose fault was that, when Ruiz broke through early to score? Either Bocanegra's or Cameron's, but the main point is that Bocanegra, the captain, put things right immediately, and it didn't happen again. From that point on, the center of our defense was solid, a consequence of his decisive leadership in the back (and this from someone who never thought much of him as a defender when Arena and Bradley were the team's coaches). He also scored a goal, to make up for the defensive error.
Michael Bradley: 6
He's proving to be a real anchor in the midfield.
Steve Cherundolo: 6
Hard to believe anyone can stick around at this level for so long, but he's just gotten better at that right fullback position.
Maurice Edu (in for ... I forget who, and the US Soccer game blogger forgot to make note of it; I think he came in around the 70th minute): 5
Clint Dempsey: 8
Needs to work on his acting skills if he's going to dive like he did near the end of the game. Kept him from being Man of the Match, in my estimation, and the card he deservedly got carries through to the next round.
Herculez Gomez (65 minutes): 7
Joe Corona (in for Johnson in the 90th minute): not rated
Danny Williams: 5
Sacha Kljestan (in for Gomez in the 65th minute): 5
Eddie Johnson: 9
He was the real star. He was the one providing the fuel for the offense, after having saved the team's bacon in its dismal Antiguan performance.
Graham Zusi: 7
Geoff Cameron: 6