Preamble: Greetings all, and welcome to tonight's CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between the United States and Guatemala. I'll be providing a match commentary from the comfort of my air-conditioned living room.
We've got two big storylines going into tonight. First, many members of this US squad are going to be a little jet-lagged, as they have just returned from Beijing after dropping out of the Olympics. The man who got the worst of the jet lag is Maurice Edu, who returned from Beijing, flew to Scotland to negotiate a contract with Rangers, and then travelled to Guatemala to join the team.
Another key item to watch for tonight is the US' recent record in Guatemala. You'd figure one of the top two teams in CONCACAF would have an easy time with the minnows from Central America, right? You'd be wrong.
The US is 1-4-4 in their last nine games at Guatemala, with the one victory coming in 1988 thanks to a goal by the immortal Jeff Agoos. Yes, the same Jeff Agoos who tried his hardest to get the US eliminated from the 2002 World Cup during the group stages.
I'd love to be bringing you the starting lineups right about now, but Tampa and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim of California are still playing, and I don't get ESPN Classic. The Bottom Line tells me that kickoff is scheduled for 10:11 PM, ET. If this game goes to extras, I'm boycotting baseball.
10:04 PM: What kind of sports package doesn't include ESPN Classic? Well, back in my Comcast days, I sprung for the digital sports tier so I could get Fox Soccer Channel. The basic digital package included ESPN and ESPN2. I hoped that the extra tier would have Classic.
Nope, FSC, three channels of Fox Sports College, NBATV, NFLTV, SPEED, and later on they would add NHLTV and GOLTV. No Classic. That meant I missed a significant chunk of Euro 2008, thus starting a feud with Comcast that continues to this day.
10:08 PM: Three minutes until kickoff. Urge to kill: rising.
10:11 PM: Kickoff. Since I can't see any action, I'll mention that if US defender Oguchi Onyewu picks up a yellow card tonight, he'll miss their next match. He's the tallest US player by far, so a suspension would seriously hurt the team on set plays.
10:12 PM: LAAoC scores! They'll have a 5-4 lead going into the bottom of the ninth with the best closer in baseball on the mound. So I'll hopefully be bringing you the last 80 minutes of the match.
10:19 PM: The baseball game is still on, but thanks to ESPNsoccernet.com, I've got some starting lineups for you.
USA! USA! USA!: Howard (GK), Pearce, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Onyewu (Defenders), Bradley, Mastroeni, Lewis, Donovan (Midfielders), Dempsey, Ching (Strikers)
Guatemala: Trigueno, Garcia, Gallardo, Flores, Castrillo, Rodriguez, Thompson, Rodriguez, Contreras, Carlos Ruiz, Guillermo Ramirez. Carlos Ruiz is the only big name on that list, but with the crowd on their side, the Guatemalans will put up a tough fight.
9 min: We've got game! No goals yet, no cards, and the pitch looks like it has been painted on. I hope the US brought their band-aids.
11 min: Carlos Ruiz has a dangerous World Cup Qualifying goal-scoring record. 25 goals in only 22 games. The US defense has to be on high alert. Also, fans are kept from the pitch by a high fence topped with barbed wire, and what appears to be a second fence. I wonder where the family section is?
14 min: Dempsey shoots wide, but earns a corner. The corner is put wide, earning nothing.
17 min: Steve Cherundolo earns the first yellow card of the match for a jersey tug. The ref really wants to take control of this game.
19 min: Carlos Ruiz, already covered in mud, fouls Bocanegra. Neither team has been able to seize control of the match in the early going, but the US has had a couple of opportunities. None of these chances can be described as "good," however.
23 min: A few early observations: Guatemala is trying to rely on the long ball to get behind the US defense, but it's being covered well. DaMarcus Beasley is a much better option than Eddie Lewis at this point. Landon Donovan is the best player out there right now.
26 min: Handbags between Clint Dempsey and an unnamed Guatemalan. Dempsey went down, got an unwanted pat on the head, and returned it with a pat on the stomach. The Guatemalan went down like he'd been shot, and receives a yellow for diving. Dempsey also gets a yellow, and is still jawing.
31 min: The game is just getting bogged down in midfield right now. It's not a very attractive match right now.
37 min: Tim Howard makes an important save as somebody finally gets a quality chance. Now if we could just get some quality finishing, this game might get interesting.
39 min: Brian Ching... shows great touch to trap the ball 25 yards out, turn and fire a shot. It barely goes over the crossbar. This is better from both ends.
40 min: Guatemala has an unsuccessful shout for a penalty. The ball touches Heath Pearce's arm in the box, but it was unintentional. The Guatemalans, meanwhile, are diving like Greg Louganis.
41 min: Ching to Dempsey, who puts it just wide. Better stuff from the Americans, as they pass around the stricken bodies of Guatemalan players who judging by their actions, were just mauled by bears.
42 min: Now Gallardo counterattacks, and slides to Carlos Ruiz 10 yards from the US goal. Carlos Bocanegra comes in to break it up, and gets fouled. Good play, better defensive recovery.
44 min: Trigueno almost gives up a rebound right in front of his own goal. I get the feeling that this game is going to be won by a terrible defensive play as opposed to offensive brilliance.
45+1 min: Michael Bradley earns a corner, which looks menacing but leads to nothing. That should bring the first half to a close.
Half time notes and musings: The weather is terrible in Guatemala. Wet, humid, hot, etc. This definitely favors the home team.
ESPN is running a lot of NASCAR commercials during half time. You know, we soccer fans aren't so different from NASCAR fans. We each spend several hours glued to a TV each weekend watching a sport that the other group probably finds unspeakably boring. If only there were a way to combine the two...
Only three weeks until I go see the US take on Trinidad & Tobago. I'll be doing a preview of that match in the coming weeks with fellow writer Jeff Harbert, who will also be at the game, and possibly tailgating with my buddy James and I.
The national sport of Guatemala is the 10m platform dive. The favorite national hobby is SCUBA. The capital city, Guatemala City, is filled with cheap, low quality bars. The Guatemalans are diving a lot, in case you didn't pick up on that.
47 min: Trigueno is making Jens Lehmann look like Peter Schmeichel right now. Not a compliment. Also, we're told that these early group stages in CONCACAF are like semi finals for the real World Cup qualifiers. Win this group, get a chance to play for keeps. So basically, this determines who enters the next round robin, am I wrong, Dude?
50 min: The US can't keep possession in midfield, and Guatemala almost makes them pay. These are the games that the US needs to put away if they want to take their game up to the next level. Spain, Italy and Germany would all put an opponent like Guatemala away on the road.
51 min: I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for a Beasley-for-Lewis substitution. Lewis is 34, has lost a step, and is just struggling out there. Guatemala's coach pops a blood vessel arguing a call. I'm beginning to see why this giant fence is in place. They may want to invest in a moat as well.
52 min: CONCACAF officials are the worst in the world. Even worse than Graham Poll. In the span of 20 seconds, they blow an easy throw-in call and an easy offsides call. On the plus side, each team had one of those calls go against them, so it's a wash.
56 min: Guatemala misses another opportunity as Lewis turns the ball over in midfield, leading to a good shot by Rodriguez. It went wide and looked like Tim Howard had it covered, but that's got to make Bob Bradley nervous.
58 min: Fredy Thompson takes the best shot of the match so far. 30 yards out, dipping and weaving. Again, Howard probably had it covered, but the US needs to mount an attack to dispel some of this pressure.
60 min: Steve Cherundolo picks up his second yellow for grabbing at a Guatemalan's foot, so he's off. To be fair to him, he was fouled repeatedly without getting a whistle.
61 min: Eddie Lewis takes a blow to the face on a head-to-head collision. He's bleeding profusely. It took place right in front of the official, and naturally, he didn't blow his whistle for about 30 seconds. Oh yeah, the Guatemalan led with his elbow, too. Atrocious officiating these last couple of minutes.
63 min: It looks like Lewis will be okay, but he needs to be stretchered off. The tireless Frankie Hejduk is coming on for him. And we've got a straight red card for the Guatemalan offender! Turns out that the ref did see the elbow. Shades of Daniele De Rossi on Brian McBride in World Cup 2006.
66 min: USA! USA! substitution: Hejduk on for Lewis. Beasley on for Dempsey. Lewis is being escorted by riot police to the locker room for some treatment.
68 min: Jose Contreras gets a yellow card for not giving Landon Donovan the necessary 10 yards on a free kick. Good call.
69 min: Donovan curls in a free kick which finds Onyewu's head. Onyewu flicks it on, and Trigueno is forced to make a great save to tip the ball over the bar.
69 min: GOAL! 1-0 USA! Off the ensuing free kick from Beasley, Carlos Bocanegra wanders into all sorts of space six yards out and pounds a header into the far corner. His 10th international goal. I'd like to remind you all that I was calling for Beasley in the 23rd minute.
73 min: Hejduk is fouled deep in his own half. I'd like to say that this game has turned ugly, but that would imply that it started out clean.
74 min: A Guatemalan corner skids through the box, and Flores puts it high, wide and not at all handsome. You have to at least put that on goal.
76 min: Beasley slips on an invisible banana peel 20 yards from goal when he could have either taken a shot or slid a through ball behind the defense. Guatemala counters, and Tim Howard comes up huge again, coming out of his goal to stop a cross.
78 min: Marquez takes a one-time shot off the ensuing corner. It's a rocket, low to the ground, and Tim Howard does well to block it and not give up a rebound. I'm so glad he's gotten to play in England, it's really beneficial to the US team.
81 min: Guatemala plays a ball into the box, which is snapped up by Tim Howard. Carlos Ruiz then drags his foot into Howard's face, which should be a definite yellow, if not a red.
The ball comes loose and is put into the net, but gets waved off. Howard gets a yellow, presumably for obstructing Ruiz' foot. Ruiz gets off with a wink and a smile. The officiating continues to get worse as the game progresses.
84 min: Beasley plays a nice ball to Brian Ching up the left channel. Ching finds Edu, who fires a left-footed shot wide of the net. Nice play, though, well done.
87 min: After keeping possession for a few minutes and suffering five or six fouls, the US finally gets a whistle. Precious seconds are ticking off the clock for Guatemala.
88 min: ESPN shows a replay of the gaol, which shows a Guatemalan player aiming a kick at Bocanegra as he runs by after the goal. You stay classy, Guatemala City. Meanwhile, in current events, a player slides through the advertising by the touchline. Through it.
90+1 min: We've got four long minutes of stoppage time. Guatemala gets the first good opportunity, but it comes to nothing thanks to Brian Ching.
Full time: For the first time in 20 years, the US wins in Guatemala. Today, like 20 years ago, the difference was a goal from a defender. Just think, all it took was two red cards and a head injury. The US wins, despite the officiating.
Some Guatemalan players seem to be taking issue with the fact that they lost, and are shouting at the Americans. A classy display all around. It's a hostile environment though, the US should probably find the locker room sooner rather than later.