Sam’s Army stormed into LIVESTRONG, flags and songs in tow, on a perfect Tuesday night.
The party was for a pivotal World Cup qualifier between the US and Guatemala. Both teams came in tied in group play so the winning team would win the group and receive the top seed heading into the next round.
But it was also an elimination game of sorts for the US. A tie would’ve put both teams through. And a loss for Guatemala would leave them in limbo, awaiting the result of the Jamaica – Antigua & Barbuda game. In other words it was a huge game…
Not only for the US team, but also for Sporting KC’s ownership group, who have made no bones about their desire to replace Columbus as the national team’s go-to venue for big games.
So Robb Heinemann and his boys rolled out the red carpet, shined everything up, and put their best foot forward for the hundreds of soccer executives, media members, and international visitors visiting LIVESTRONG for the first or second time.
A few observations before we get to the action on the pitch.
First off, the food is much better for the media circus that follows Jurgen Klinsmann’s boys than it is for your run-of-the-mill MLS game. No biggie, right?
Second, they put black tablecloths on the media tables.
Third- and probably coolest of all- is that there were enough out-of-towners in town for this game that the local idiots who insist on bellowing “Chiefs” at the end of the National Anthem were barely heard.
Aside: Hey idiots, stop doing that.
When the match started, I looked around and was a bit surprised. The sold-out crowd was big, although I’ve seen the place more packed during the last handful of Sporting’s home games. They weren’t letting anyone stand on the north run above the Cauldron or anywhere else for that matter.
From the get-go the US dictated play. Showing nerves in front of his home crowd, Graham Zusi got his second consecutive start, pounding a corner way over the target area a few minutes in.
Then Guatemala caught the Yanks sleeping by playing a long ball over the top to Carlos Ruiz, who tracked it down and slipped an easy outside footer into the open net. From where I was sitting it looked like US keeper Tim Howard should’ve committed to coming out on the play, but didn’t. Instead he hesitated for a second and payed for his crime.
The boys struck right back though, off a corner from… wait for it… KC’s next mayor Graham Zusi. Clint Dempsey actually got the assist on the play, as he nodded the ball down to an onrushing Carlos Bocanegra who side footed the point blank chance into the net.
But from that point, Zusi had a fairly effective game swerving balls into the box and exhibiting deference to Michael Bradley. Rightfully.
Then the US struck again in the 18th minute. A brilliant ball out of the back released the Seattle Sounder and former KC Wizard, Eddie Johnson, who simply whacked a low ball across the face of the goal. Dempsey was on the end of it, and slid into a simple close-range goal of his own, putting his side on top 2-1.
Dempsey’s boys really twisted the dagger in the 37th minute when Zusi touched a nicely weighted ball into the path of an onrushing Bradley who 1-2′ed it and then flipped the ball goalward, beating the Guetemalan keeper. Just for good measure though, Dempsey powered it home to put the score to 3-1.
Again, local boy Zusi orchestrating.
Afterwards, Bradley was asked about Zusi’s impact. “Age-wise he’s not so young but as far as experience in games, he’s on the younger side,” said Bradley. “He’s come in and from the first time he’s been shown a real eagerness to improve and to try and make a difference. His soccer ability really helps us. If we tilt him out on the right, he finds a good way of playing out wide but coming inside and playing between the lines. Going forward we’re going to expect more and more out of him.”
In the second half the US didn’t ease up, generally dominating and garnering several decent chances right away. As they settled in, though, the US became more content to just waste time and nurse their 2 goal lead.
You guys know I hate that.
Then things really fell apart for the Guatemalans. Around the 80th minute, several of their players went down with cramps and the ones that didn’t could barely pressure the Americans in the back, let alone string together anything resembling decent possession.
With the big 3-1 win the US wins the group and advances, with the next round of games in 2014.
“It’s definitely a good way to end the first round and advance and to make it clear that we were the No. 1 team in that group,” reflected Klinsmann. “With every game you try to earn respect. That’s what you do – every friendly, every qualifying game, every competition, you try to earn respect. You know that in soccer everybody’s watching you. You want to always make statements that say we’re ready for whoever comes in.”