U.S. proves it can put an opponent away in topping Guatemala; more
The U.S. beat Guatemala 3-1 to reach the final round of World Cup qualifying
The Americans' back line looked shaky and was exposed on Carlos Ruiz's goal
Michael Bradley and Danny Williams could be a reliable force for years to come
KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- Three thoughts on the U.S.' 3-1 victory against Guatemala in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday:
The U.S. needed this convincing victory. First things first: the U.S. is through to the final round of World Cup qualifying next year, and that's what matters most. For all the growth that has taken place in U.S. soccer over the last two decades, missing a World Cup (which had a small chance of happening Tuesday) would have been crushing for the sport in this country. But after a semifinal round that was much more difficult than expected, the U.S. also needed to show it was capable of putting away an opponent with an offensive outburst, and that's exactly what happened. After an awful start that saw Guatemala go up 1-0 on a Carlos Ruiz goal, the U.S. came back with a vengeance. A trademark hustle play by Hérculez Gómez earned the corner kick that led to Carlos Bocanegra's equalizer. Eddie Johnson continued showing his newfound confidence on the ball all night and fed Clint Dempsey to go up 2-1, followed by more good work from Graham Zusi and Michael Bradley on Dempsey's second for 3-1. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann flashed his Dieter-from-Sprockets dance on the sidelines, and he had reason to be excited: When his U.S. team plays this way, it's great fun to watch.
The Americans still have some things to work through. Give the U.S. plenty of praise for this attacking performance, but the back line still looked shaky at times. If you're going to play a high line like Klinsmann wants, your center backs have to be fast enough to track back, and the U.S. was exposed badly on Ruiz's early counter-attack goal. The 33-year-old Bocanegra, in particular, looks like he may not have the wheels to remain a starter through the World Cup if the U.S. qualifies, though he does still bring useful leadership and the kind of big-game experience that helped lead to his equalizing goal. Geoff Cameron had some of his own miscues, but he still has the appearance of a starter from here on. The competition to line up next to him will be intriguing in the coming months between Bocanegra, Omar González, Clarence Goodson, Maurice Edu, Tim Ream and others.
Michael Bradley and Danny Williams make a promising pair. The U.S. central midfield duo was sharp all night and could be a reliable force for a long time to come. Williams, the 23-year-old defensive mid for Germany's Hoffenheim, broke up plays and won balls but was also far more comfortable on the ball than Jermaine Jones has been in the same position. (He also hasn't shown Jones's propensity for yellow cards, which got him suspended for this game.) As for Bradley, the 25-year-old Roma starter has put together two sterling two-way games in a row, showing how indispensable he is to the U.S.'s rhythm and stability. His soccer IQ these days is higher than any other U.S. player. The central midfield performance was just one of many reasons U.S. fans will feel better about their team's chances as we look toward the 10-game Hexagonal in 2013. Strap yourself in, folks. This is going to be fun.
Check back on SI.com for another story from Kansas City posting later tonight after the press conferences.