Across the US Soccer aesthetic spectrum, there is ugly, CONCACAF ugly, and then this game ugly.
After bombarding Barbados 9-0 in aggregate, the US opened the third round of World Cup Qualifying with a tricky away match against Guatemala. Though the US were the more talented team on paper, they had never won at Guatemala. Add a bumpy field, lighting worse than the average high school stadium, a raucous crowd, and peak Carlos Ruiz, and an away draw would have been a positive result.
A crazy stretch of the match starting in the 60th minute added to the combustible nature of the game. Steve Cherundolo uncharacteristically got caught in possession, and once beat, decided to pull the attacker’s leg. His second yellow led to an ejection, but the US only played shorthanded for a few minutes. Just three minutes later, Eddie Lewis received a flying elbow from a Guatemala defender; the foul evened the sides at 10 players, but also knocked out Lewis. DaMarcus Beasley entered, and Bob Bradley used the stoppage in play to reshape the team, subbing in Frankie Hejduk for Clint Dempsey.
Like they had that entire year, the US utilized a set-piece to provide an advantage. In the 68th minute, Landon Donovan hits a lofted free kick that finds the head of Oguchi Onyewu, and Onyewu’s looping header is knocked over the bar for a corner kick. Beasley takes the resulting corner, and his outswinger catches the Guatemala keeper between two minds. Carlos Bocanegra, who lost his marker in the pre-kick scramble, makes no mistake from six yards out, and gently nods home in the far right corner.
Despite being out-shot 16-9, the US held on for a 1-0 win, with Tim Howard playing particularly well. It wasn’t a pretty game, but Bocanegra, the defender with the most goals in US history, salvaged the three points.