In the final match of the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the US, a side comprised of second and third-choice players convincingly beat Guatemala 2-0 on the strength of goals from Kenny Cooper and Freddy Adu. Though Guatemala was desperate for a win to extend its chances of qualifying for the next round, the desperation never translated to belief or commitment as it put numbers behind the ball and seemed more intent on not being humiliated rather than going for a win for the opening minute.
US midfielders Pablo Mastroeni, Ricardo Clark and Sacha Kljestan controlled the pace and direction of the match: Mastroeni was especially influential in his positive play. Jozy Altidore proved that even at 19 his strength and speed are more than the Guatemalans can handle. He was the architect of the first goal. Altidore received the ball wide left, cut inside after a series of stepovers and then expertly crossed into the path of the goal-crashing Cooper. Cooper also had a good night, combining well with Altidore, Kljestan and Freddy Adu. Cooper is a goal-scorer and someone I’d like to see more of: he is not the most athletically gifted player but what he makes up for in speed and agility he more than makes up for with craftiness and a soccer brain. Scorers are a rare commodity in the game, especially for the US. Relying on athletically gifted players like Eddie Johnson is not reasonable when clever, effective players like Cooper and Freddy Adu are available.
Adu scored the second goal and a very well-taken free kick from 22 yards. In addition to the goal Adu kept the Guatemalans off-balance with his ability to shoot from distance and play balls behind the defense. Kljestan and Clark also were very successful playing balls over, around and through the defense. On one occasion right back John Thorrington cut inside and drew about as clear a penalty as you’re going to see. The Mexican referee chose not to call it, however, and the score remained 0-0. Thorrington was excellent as well. He had an excellent season for the Chicago Fire: Thorrington is an energetic two-way midfielder with a bit of bite to his game as well as a knack for scoring timely goals.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan and central defenders Clarence Goodson and Michael Parkhurst had very little to do and thus could not shine. They played mistake-free defense and distributed smartly which is all you can ask. The only negative performance on the night was of left back Jonathan Bornstein who has regressed since his coming out party last year. His energy and commitment are still there, but his technical ability is lacking as evidenced by extremely poor passing and crossing. His decisions on the ball were also suspect, choosing to take the extra touch at inopportune times and playing first-time when an extra touch was the right choice. I’m not very high on the regular left back Heath Pearce either. It will be interesting to see who ends up playing there in this last round of qualifying. If Jon Spector stays healthy for longer than a few weeks he may emerge as an option.
Even if Guatemala won last night it would not have advanced to the hexagonal due to Trinidad and Tobago’s (T&T) victory over Cuba. The final round will have the US, T&T, Mexico (who lost 1-0 to Honduras and had two players sent off last night), Honduras, Costa Rica and El Salvador. From that group three teams will qualify for the 2010 World Cup. The first match of the final round is February 11. The schedules will be drawn Saturday. Last night’s game showed manager Bob Bradley that he has an ever expanding pool of players to choose from. As the matches grow in importance and difficulty, the knowledge the coaches gained from evaluating players in the context of a meaningful match and the experience gained by youthful players will prove to be invaluable assets.