The U.S. men's national team suffered an early scare against Guatemala but bounced back to turn in 85 professional, thorough minutes to march through to the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying hexagonal with a 3-1 victory Tuesday night at Livestrong Sporting Park. The match saw the U.S. men attack with renewed vigor but maintain some questions in defense. Jurgen Klinsmann will have the next few months to iron out those wrinkles before the hexagonal begins in February, with the November friendly date the next chance to build off Tuesday's result. Here are U.S. player ratings from the match (as always, on a scale from 0-10):
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GK, Tim Howard, 5 -- Howard had a shocking moment as part of the fifth-minute Carlos Ruiz goal, hesitating coming off his line and ultimately being rounded by the veteran Guatemalan for the opening tally. He was more aggressive in coming off his line for a similar chance in the second half to come up with the stop, and he made the necessary saves over the final 45 minutes to keep Los Chapines at just the one goal. On one of those saves Howard parried the ball to the doorstep but showed the piece of mind and instincts to swipe-kick it away before any attackers could pounce. Like Friday, not his best showing. Fortunately for the U.S. men, this was not one of those matches in which they needed Howard to be at his best in order to win.
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D, Steve Cherundolo, 7 -- Cherundolo showed his class in Kansas City much like he did in Columbus against Jamaica a little more than a month ago. His ability to impact the attack out of the back was influential on the result, most notably his tremendous ball out of the back that found Eddie Johnson streaking down the right, where the cross for Clint Dempsey was sent in for the go-ahead goal. Cherundolo's hustle going forward earned multiple corner kicks, and he defended well the few times his number was called. One of his biggest moments came with the U.S. playing with a 3-1 lead midway thorugh the second half, when he stepped in front of Juan Manuel Contreras' long-range blast that seemed earmarked for goal.
D, Geoff Cameron, 5 -- Tuesday was another night that Cameron was not at his finest, much of which stemmed back to the opening goal. He was caught out of position and allowed Ruiz to slide in the space between him and Carlos Bocanegra, and the communication between the two center backs seemed a bit off. It improved as the match wore on, as did Cameron's play, and he showed his proficiency on the right side, where he has been playing for Stoke City, when absorbing hits from two Guatemala attackers before emerging no worse for the wear and clearing the ball. Had Bocanegra not gotten his foot to Dempsey's squared header on the opening goal, Cameron was in position to touch it home.
D, Carlos Bocanegra, 5.5 -- The captain shifted back into central defense after spending Friday night at left back, and he was beaten over the top and was slow in recovery on the Ruiz goal. He made up for it soon after with the equalizer and improved aerially as the night wore on. Bocanegra's positioning needs to be pristine, because his recovery speed is not what it once was -- not that he was ever a true burner -- and when it is not, he is susceptible to looking really bad. Bocanegra and Cameron need more opportunities to play alongside each other to hammer out any communication and organization issues, but they remain Klinsmann's top pairing option in the center.
D, Michael Parkhurst, 5.5 -- Parkhurst was charged with playing a bit out of position while sliding over to left back and emerging as the one change from Friday's lineup, pushing Clarence Goodson back to the bench. He was beaten in the air on set pieces, but being strong in the air was never going to be Parkhurst's forte. He was decent getting forward and played smart balls down his channel, but he did get caught forward in possession a couple of times, fortunately not to the Americans' detriment. With Fabian Johnson healthy, Parkhurst is a reserve, but he has held his own on enough occasions to ensure he remains in Klinsmann's plans going forward.
M, Graham Zusi, 6 -- Suiting up in front of his home fans, the Sporting Kansas City maestro shook off some apparent early nerves to deliver another worthwhile performance that should keep him as a starting wing option in the future. His ability to play on either side plays into his favor, especially when Landon Donovan returns to fitness. Zusi's set-piece service, after the wayward one in the opening minutes, was spot-on, and it was his corner that led to the opening U.S. goal. In just a brief time as a regular, he seems to have found a solid understanding of his place and has carved out quite the improbable niche considering where he was just a couple of years ago.
M, Michael Bradley, 8 -- Bradley's calming presence in the midfield can be understated and overlooked at times, but he turned in a first-class overall effort yet again as the field general for the Americans. In addition to his ability to circulate the ball with precision and always be available for a return pass, Bradley also knew when to get forward and was influential in doing so. He had a probable goal taken from him when Dempsey got the final touch on his deflected shot for the third U.S. tally, but continued run to combine with Herculez Gomez was sublime. Bradley also had what appeared to be a sure penalty shot go ignored for the second straight match. Simply put: The U.S. can only reach its highest potential with Bradley on the field.
M, Danny Williams, 7 -- With Jermaine Jones suspended for the match, Williams had another chance to stake his claim as the premiere defensive midfielder in Klinsmann's player pool, and he responded with a technically sound performance. Williams was smooth in his possession and distribution in the center and really seems to be in sync with Bradley in managing the space. He was not charged with breaking up too many Guatemala forays forward, as the U.S. dominated the possession battle. Williams also showed his preference to have a go from long distance, uncorking a second-half blast that was denied by a diving save. After months of the Williams-Bradley-Jones-Kyle Beckerman-Maurice Edu central midfield debate, it is becoming clearer that a Bradley-Williams pairing is the way to go.
M, Eddie Johnson, 6.5 -- Johnson returned to one of his former club homes, earning a second straight start for Klinsmann as a wide midfielder despite being a center forward any other time he takes to the field. Johnson responded well again, though, taking advantage of his ability to take defenders on and linking up well with his fellow attackers. He was even more active after switching flanks from the left to the right, running onto Cherundolo's pass from the back and sending in a perfect cross for Dempsey to slide home for the eventual game-winning goal. Johnson missed a golden chance to put the game away in the second half, whiffing on Herculez Gomez' inch-perfect cross, and he became less visible as the half wound down before being subbed off late but ensured that Klinsmann's selection of him was vindicated yet again.
F, Clint Dempsey, 8 -- The U.S. men needed Dempsey to exert his influence after a silent affair on Friday, and he did just that in a fantastic bounce-back performance. His two goals and assist in the first half put the result out of the balance and allowed the U.S. to breathe easier. Did Dempsey have to tap in Bradley's shot that looked like it was going in anyway? Probably not, but Dempsey managed to remain onside during the sequence and made sure the goal was scored instead of taking the chance. Dempsey had a polar opposite showing contrasted with his game against Antigua and Barbuda and thrived with the pressure at its highest. If there was a blemish on Dempsey's night, it was his dive at the end of the game in an attempt to win a penalty that ended up drawing a yellow card and was completely unnecessary.
F, Herculez Gomez, 7 -- Like Dempsey, Gomez completely redeemed himself with his showing Tuesday night. It might go unnoticed by most because it won't appear in any box score or highlight reel, but Gomez's hustle to track down a ball that was going out for a harmless goal kick and instead tapping it off his defender for a corner kick led to the U.S. goal that tied up the match. Klinsmann is enamored with Gomez's work rate and hustle, and they paid dividends Tuesday in the city in which his career almost came to a screeching halt three years ago. Gomez had a hand in the third U.S. goal, playing Bradley through on a slick combination, and was robbed of an assist when Johnson missed his unmarked chance. This was the Gomez that has him entrenched as a U.S. starter.
M, Sacha Kljestan, 5 -- Kljestan entered for Gomez soon after the hour mark and received a good chunk of minutes to help see out the game. Kljestan was not as assertive in the attack as he was Friday night, but then again, the situation did not call for him to be. Kljestan had one great opportunity at goal, teeing up a rifle from inside the area that was well saved by Ricardo Jerez.
M, Maurice Edu, 5 -- Edu came on as a late replacement for Zusi, stepping onto the field as a third central midfielder and helping to clog that portion of the field along with Bradley in front of Williams. Edu did not have much work to do in his brief time in the match, but if he is going to be a late-game substitution going forward (he was in Columbus against Jamaica as well), then having an uneventful, yet productive stint like Tuesday is a good foundation on which to build.
M, Joe Corona, N/A -- Corona was not on the field long enough to really register any impact, but his entrance as a last-minute substitute cap-tied him to the United States and reinforces his place as a big part of the future as the World Cup qualifying cycle continues.
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