The United States went to war with Guatemala last night, and they have the scars to prove it. In a game that was chippy to say the least, the US was able to garner a victory 1-0 against a hostile Guatemalan team and city.
The US knew going in that the game would be decided not by their talent but by their ability to stay cool and collected when faced with the determination of the Guatemalans.
Landon Donovan had this to say. "In theory, we should beat a team like Guatemala. The reality is playing in Guatemala becomes very difficult, and they use all the other factors besides soccer and talent on the field to their advantage, so the atmosphere, the crowd, the travel that we go through, the field, the temperatures there, those can all become excuses for us and benefit to them."
Rain had been a constant issue in the days leading up to the match, with the American's pre-match training session cancelled due to the poor weather. The Guatemalan crowd cheered and jeered mercilessly throughout the whole game.
But when it comes down to it, the players on the field are what determine the outcome. Unfettered by their FIFA ranking of 100, the Guatemalans certainly out worked the United States all game.
However their work effort was laden with late tackles, hard fouls, and verbal abuse, which was the perfect game plan for Guatemala. They wanted to throw the US off their game—wanted to get in their heads—and they did. No one accomplished this feat better than Carlos Ruiz.
Ruiz had a reputation of being a dirty player and he only enhanced that image with his performance on Wednesday night. He had a few early fouls in the beginning of the game just to break up the US flow. Then in the 33rd minute Ruiz and Mastroeni tangled up with each other, and Mastroeni retaliated, earning himself a yellow card while Ruiz went free.
Later in the game Ruiz took an intentional poke at a ball already in goalie Tim Howard's hands, kneeing him in the head.
Howard took exception. "Carlos kicked me straight in my head," Howard said. "With Carlos you expect that. He is dirty. I wish I could say it otherwise, but he's played MLS for five years and I've seen him."
Ruiz managed not to hurt anyone seriously, unlike his teammate Jose Manuel Contreras, who leveled Eddie Louis while both were going up for a header. Wait—let me clarify, Louis was going up for the header while Contreras tried to spear Louis and the ball, jumping through the air like a dart. The play left Louis with a gash on his forehead requiring five stitches and another Guatemalan Gustavo Cabrera with a red card.
Guatemalan coach Ramon Maradiaga thought the card was a bit much. "The referee today expelled Gustavo Cabrera as a way to level the game after expelling Cherundolo."
Cherundolo had only a minute earlier been sent off for his second yellow card. Both fouls that Cherundolo committed were because of a lack of discipline, throwing the ball away in the first half, and then after getting beat, dragging a player down by his ankles.
The single scoring play was a nicely delivered corner by DaMarcus Beasley that found the wide open head of Carlos Bocanegra. Bocanegra nodded it home to ultimately give the US the victory.
It was the first World Cup qualifying for the US on Guatemalan soil, but to call it a 'historic victory' as did the announcers on ESPN about ten times, would be an overstatement. The fact that the US had not won there yet was historical, and a win is just one step toward the future success of the United States.
Bob Bradley summed up the win and its significance in this way. "It was a very hard fought game, and for us a hard earned three points. We have played some tough games in the last year, but none of them are qualifiers. To experience it and to win in that fashion is good for the group."
Good for the group indeed. Havana, Cuba is the next stop for the US in World Cup qualifying, and they will certainly draw on their Guatemalan experiences in order to win again in another hostile environment.