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U.S. Soccer Victory Lacks Home Equity

Times Staff Writer

Nowhere was the changing face of the United States more evident Wednesday night than here in Alabama, land of Bear Bryant, the Crimson Tide and ... the Chapines?

Guatemala’s fans turned out in their blue-and-white thousands on a warm evening to cheer their country’s national soccer team (nicknamed the Chapines) in its World Cup qualifying game against the U.S.

It wasn’t what U.S Coach Bruce Arena expected.

“The reason we chose Birmingham as a venue is because we really believe every time we’ve been in Birmingham it has been a pro-American crowd,” Arena said last week. “That’s not always the case in the United States.”

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But Legion Field was largely Guatemala’s stadium Wednesday night.

The American players were booed coming onto the field to warm up. The fence around the field was draped in Guatemalan flags and homemade signs, all in Spanish. The stands were filled with fans bearing placards that read everything from “Chapines de Nashville, TN” to “Guatemala Trenton, N.J.”

Bruce Springsteen’s belting out “Born in the USA” on the stadium’s sound system didn’t change anything.

Only the American team could do that, and it did. The final score: U.S. 2, Guatemala 0.

Eddie Johnson, whose newest teammate at FC Dallas is Guatemala and former Galaxy striker Carlos Ruiz, provided the first goal, steering a pass from Landon Donovan into the net off the right post in the 11th minute.

It was Johnson’s seventh goal in six qualifying matches and his eighth overall in eight games for the national team.

“Not scoring in Mexico, I was kind of down,” Johnson said. “I knew I had to be better this game.”

Guatemala’s main scoring threats, Ruiz and fellow forward Dwight Pezzarossi, who each had scored twice in the team’s 5-1 rout of Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday, were kept in check, for the most part, by defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Cory Gibbs, the latter starting in place of Gregg Berhalter.

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The other two changes Arena made from the starting lineup in Sunday’s 2-1 loss to Mexico in Mexico City was to start Steve Ralston in midfield in place of Claudio Reyna and to bring Brian Ching in to partner Johnson up front and take the place of the suspended DaMarcus Beasley.

The U.S., cheered on by about half the crowd of 31,624, attacked with far more enthusiasm than it had in Mexico and created a handful of other scoring chances in the first half but could not capitalize.

Donovan, whose arrival in Los Angeles today will follow Ruiz’s departure Wednesday, orchestrated the play for the U.S. in the center of midfield, allowing Pablo Mastroeni to do the dirty defensive work while he sprayed passes out wide left to Eddie Lewis, wide right to Ralston or up the middle to Johnson and Ching.

Guatemala was forced to defend for all its worth simply to stay in the game. Its best scoring chance came six minutes before halftime, when Ruiz was taken down by Mastroeni at the edge of the area, but Ruiz’s free kick slammed into the defensive wall and the chance was lost.

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The Chapines got another opportunity in the 63rd minute when Mastroeni was judged to have tripped midfielder Guillermo “El Pando” Ramirez, now the Galaxy’s lone Guatemalan player, but Ruiz’s free kick again was blocked.

Moments later, Donovan appeared to score off a cross from Lewis, but the play was ruled offside.

With the tempo picking up, there were three goalmouth incidents in rapid succession:

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller made a superb diving save on a shot by Mario Rodriguez. He would duplicate the feat to deny Ramirez in the 90th minute.

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Johnson’s acrobatic bicycle kick at the other end was equally well saved by Richard Trigueno.

Ralston, sprinting in at the far post, scored to double the U.S. lead in the 68th minute, bundling the ball into the net after Lewis’ cross from the left had been flicked on by Johnson.

With nine minutes to play, Ramirez, who looks to be a lively acquisition by the Galaxy, sent a 40-yard free kick screaming just wide of Keller’s left post.

“We play I don’t know if it was 15, 16 games without losing, we have really one bad half, one bad five minutes in Mexico against a very good team at an incredible altitude and in nasty smog,” Donovan said, “and all of a sudden we’re the worst team in CONCACAF. It just makes some peace and quiet for a week, so that people can leave us alone. But we needed that.”

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The U.S. moved into second place behind Mexico, which tied Panama, 1-1, at Panama City, in the six-nation qualifying group. Guatemala fell into a tie for third place with Costa Rica, which Wednesday was held to a 0-0 tie at Trinidad and Tobago.

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Earlier Wednesday, the Galaxy finally announced the trade of Ruiz to FC Dallas in exchange for a player allocation Los Angeles will use to acquire Donovan.

Doug Hamilton, the Galaxy’s president and general manager, praised the player whose goal-scoring prowess led the club to its first and only Major League Soccer title, in 2002.

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“Carlos has accomplished some great things during his time in a Galaxy uniform,” Hamilton said in a prepared statement.”

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Associated Press contributed to this report.


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