[WORLD CUP 2010] The first USA foray into Central America for 2010 World Cup qualifying followed tradition in so many ways, except for one: the result. Guatemala 0, USA 1. Spectacular? No, but historic, yes. Never before in a qualifier, and only once in nine games, had the USA returned from this nation victorious.
Twenty years ago, defender Jeff Agoos scored the only goal to bring home a win in a friendly, that quaintly euphemistic term used to designate matches in official competitions from all others. For this match, anything but friendly, a defender responded once again.
A Carlos Bocanegra goal in the 69th minute decided 90-plus minutes of the usual CONCACAF qualifying fare: fouls, cautions, squabbles, the flops and kicks of Carlos Ruiz, chest-bumping, finger-pointing, appalling antics, and ejections.
Each team finished with 10 men, following a rough, chippy match rife with reckless challenges and petty tirades. The Americans lost right back Steve Cherundolo - ironically, one of the most experienced players sent out by Coach Bob Bradley - to the second of his two foolish cautions.
The Guatemalans soldiered on without right back Gustavo Cabrera, another veteran whose flying smash-down of Eddie Lewis left the American midfielder concussed and bleeding from a facial gash, and Cabrera the recipient of a straight red card.
Bocanegra got the goal, yet the Americans wouldn't have earned the win without heroics from keeper Tim Howard. He smothered numerous dangerous balls -- taking a kick in the head from Ruiz during one incident -- and responded to the few dangerous shots launched by Guatemala by athletically flicking them to safety.
The American attack sputtered for much of the match. Outside midfielders Lewis and Landon Donovan never got behind the back line to cross or goal for goal, which enabled Guatemala to shackle forwards Clint Dempsey and Brian Ching.
Once Guatemala pushed the ball forward, central mids Michael Bradley and Pablo Mastroeni scrambled to slow the momentum, and balls played wide for Mario Rodriguez and Jose Contreras outflanked the U.S. back line time and time again.
Guillermo Ramirez, one of several current or former MLS players to take the field for Guatemala, applied crunching tackles to disrupt U.S. efforts to keep possession and establish rhythm.
Contreras and Freddy Garcia scorched U.S. left back Heath Pearce several times, and also found space behind Cherundolo occasionally, but Guatemala couldn't convert those opportunities into a clear shot or telling cross. Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu held their central positions: ready to cut out low balls, leap to clear high ones, and rely on Howard to handle shots from distance.
The defenders also tracked Ruiz, who flew into late tackles, blocked and jostled with his markers, and caught Howard on the head with his left foot after the keeper had smothered a ball.
Dempsey and Bradley took a couple of rips from long range in the first half just to keep Guatemalan keeper Ricardo Trigueno on his toes, yet Ching never got a clean look at goal and Donovan's few promising dribbles ran aground.
Peace's attempts to join the attack left huge gaps for Rodriguez to exploit, prompting a tactical switch that kept Pearce further back to protect his corner.
Howard and the back line defended desperately and a goalless deadlock seemed possible until the ejections opened up the play.
Cherundolo, who'd been cautioned in the first half for tossing the ball away in protest, lost a tussle near the sideline and while prone grabbed Garcia's ankle to halt the dribble. Off he went in the 60th minute.
While Bradley furiously plotted strategy and Frankie Hejduk peeled off his warm-up bib, Cabrera crashed into Lewis with an upraised elbow as they went for a head ball and opened a gash above Lewis' right eyebrow. Lewis needed several minutes before getting to his feet groggily, Cabrera left the field as enraged as the fans.
Bradley brought on Hejduk for Dempsey, and removed Lewis for Beasley in the 63rd minute as the USA switched to a 4-4-1 formation with Ching alone up top. Six minutes later, an Onweyu header from a Donovan free kick earned a corner. Beasley curled an outswinger as Onyewu and Ching tied up their markers and Bocanegra bounced the ball past Triguenos for his 10th international goal and second in a qualifier.
Howard needed to make one more save, a fine shot from Jean Marquez set up by a throw-in that Howard dived left to repel. During a frantic final 20 minutes Howard earned a caution for barking at Ruiz after the striker's left shoe raked the top of Howard's head.
Ching courageously held the ball and absorbed kicks and jabs as the Guatemalans tried to pry it loose, substitute Maurice Edu helped bottle up the middle, and Pearce - aided by Beasley's tracking back - shored up his game to frustrate the home team, which outshot the U.S., 16-9, but left a rabid crowd of 25,000 and a nation of 13 million bitterly disappointed.
Aug. 20 in Guatemala City
Guatemala 0 USA 1. Goal: Bocanegra 69.
Guatemala -- Trigueno, Flores, Rodriguez, Rodriguez, Ramirez, Gallardo, Cabrera, Garcia (Castrillo, 66), Thompson (Marquez, 64), Contreras (Pappa, 74), Ruiz.
USA -- Howard, Pearce, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Donovan, Bradley, Mastroeni (Edu, 78), Lewis (Beasley, 65), Ching, Dempsey (Hejduk, 65)
Shots on Goal: 7-3
Corner Kicks: 3-3
Yellow cards: Guatemala - Ramirez 27, Contreras 68. USA -- Cherundolo 17, Dempsey 27, Mastroeni 33, Cherundolo (caution) 60, Howard 83.
Red cards: Guatemala - Cabrera 63; Cherundolo 60.