USA Comfortably Reaches Next Stage of 2014 World Cup Qualification Despite Fears
The USA Men’s National Team was harshly criticized during the past few weeks due to several poor showings in their second round matches of qualification in the CONCACAF region, most alarmingly their shock 2-1 defeat at the hands of Jamaica. Coming into the final match against Guatemala, the United States needed at least a draw to progress to the next and final round of qualification. And although the Americans gave up a disastrous early goal to the visitors, they quickly responded and were able to cruise to a 3-1 victory.
Clint Dempsey was back to his old self and proved to be a menace in the opposing penalty box for each of America’s three goals, and as so was the man of the match for me. After assisting on the first goal by heading a corner kick to the path of Carlos Bocanegra to poke through for the equalizer, he added two more goals and was constantly terrorizing the Guatemalan defense.
After the fireworks of the first half, the game stabilized and America held on smoothly for he win, even after Guatemala brought on more offensive minded players to bring them back level.
I feel that much praise needs to be heaped onto manager Jurgen Klinsmann for the excellent focus that the team had during this game, and especially with how they responded after the first goal. Yes, America should not have even found themselves in such a predicament heading into these two last matches (the other was against Antigua and Barbuda), but this was a team without many of their vital players.
Landon Donovan has missed the past four matches in the group, including the Jamaica loss, and clearly his absence was felt. Dempsey may be the nation’s best player at this point, but Donovan is the heart and soul. He’s the player who refuses to lose and finds the crucial moments of magic that win us games.
Also, Dempsey was completely unfit in Jamaica because of a summer transfer saga and probably shouldn’t have even featured in that game.
Much worry was also brought to the forefront last week when it was announced that striker Jozy Altidore was left off of the squad by Klinsmann. Altidore has impressed for his club AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands and has featured in the past, but apparently his work ethic and poor showings for the USA resulted in his exclusion from these games. Had America lost at this stage, the decision would have been viewed as a howler, but I think Klinsmann wanted to send a message to Altidore, and hopefully he will come back to the side more hungry to make an impact.
Either way, America has progressed to the next round of qualification and should be favorites to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Yes, this group proved to be trickier than usual but I feel that injuries and rough pitches made the task more difficult than it should have been. Let’s hope that the players can make the next stage simpler so that America can head to Brazil more confident and able to make an impact at the next World Cup.