Michael Bradley continues to prove himself indispensable, but when one of his teammates has two goals and an assist, Man of the Match is hard to wrestle away. That the goals were the 29th and 30th in Clint Dempsey’s national team career adds a sentimental note to a big performance on a very big night.
History will likely forget the very big night part. In time, people will United States-Guatemala with ‘well of course they won.’ They won’t remember that, after Carlos Ruiz put Guatemala up early, the stakes were painfully clear. With a loss, the U.S. would put their future in the Jamaica’s hands, a treacherous road considering the Reggae Boyz, hosting Antigua and Barbuda, were bound to put up a lopsided result. Big gap in Kingston plus a U.S. loss in Kansas City meant the States were done.
Dempsey was having none of it. Five minutes after Ruiz’s goal, Dempsey set up Carlos Bocanegra’s equalizer, heading Graham Zusi’s corner down for the captain’s 14th career goal (a record for U.S. defenders). Seven minutes later, Dempsey got his right foot onto an Eddie Johnson cross, putting the States in front for good. Then, nine minutes before half, Dempsey guided home a ball chipped over the goalkeeper by Michael Bradley, completing a U.S. run of three goals in 26 minutes.
And within that 26 minutes, fans got their first glimpse of what a U.S. team firing on all cylinders might look like. With Herculez Gomez running right and Eddie Johnson often prowling at the back post, Dempsey was given the entire face of goal to do what he does best – read the game, attack a spot, and score goals. His second was a perfect example: Dempsey hovering around goal, ready to come back for a ball Johnson put just above the six. With the defense was collapsing toward goal, Dempsey came back for what was ultimately the game-winning goal.
It was exactly the kind of performance the U.S. needed. Throughout qualifying, scoring goals has been the team’s biggest problem. The team’s often looked stoic in the final third, as if missing one final part that would link their ambitions and talents. Perhaps Dempsey, unabashedly aggressive leading the attack, was that final part, creating the attack Jurgen Klinsmann’s been cultivating.
The movement, speed, intensity, and (most importantly) the end result. For the first time, it was all there.
And in the final third, Dempsey was key to it all. Be it in the air or attacking space within the defense, Dempsey stayed dangerous. As a result, the U.S. gave their most convincing performance of the round.