Bocanegra's Goal Is Just Enough for the U.S.

Carlos Bocanegra, left, celebrates his goal against Guatemala with teammate Michael Bradley during their CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.
Carlos Bocanegra, left, celebrates his goal against Guatemala with teammate Michael Bradley during their CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Wednesday. (Daniel Leclair - Reuters)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 21, 2008; 12:32 AM

GUATEMALA CITY, Aug. 20 -- The U.S national soccer team has reached a point in its evolution where ties on the road in World Cup qualifying are no longer fulfilling. The Americans will accept a draw, but feel they should win anywhere in this region, except Mexico.

On Wednesday night, in a raucous atmosphere at Estadio Mateo Flores, the Americans endured a troubling start to the second half to defeat Guatemala, 1-0.

Carlos Bocanegra nodded in DaMarcus Beasley's corner kick in the 68th minute as the U.S. team began its six-game semifinal round group with its first win in Guatemala in more than 20 years.

Both teams lost players to red cards -- Steve Cherundolo in the 60th minute and Gustavo Cabrera three minutes later.

The Americans found a bit of success in the early stages and created a couple of half-chances -- Landon Donovan's dangerous free kick from 30 yards into the heart of the penalty area, and Oguchi Onyewu's lunging attempt on Eddie Lewis's corner kick.

Guatemala began to find traction on the deteriorating turf and built some quality possessions. Freddy Garcia was particularly effective on the flanks.

The match heated up in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Jose Contreras tested Tim Howard from the top of the box and Brian Ching whistled an 18-yarder over the crossbar.

The Chapines pleaded for a handball call in the box, but play continued. A minute later, Cherundolo overlapped on the right and served a quality ball that Clint Dempsey redirected narrowly wide of the left post.

Five hours before kickoff, the corner of Seventh Avenue and Mateo Flores Street was bustling with activity. Blue-clad supporters, with and without tickets, gathered at the top of an incline that led to the stadium, a concrete hulk with slate-gray walls lying in a shallow ravine. The Rose Bowl, it is not.

Kiosks lined the street, which was closed to vehicular traffic, and merchants selling T-shirts, Dr. Seuss-style hats, headbands, snacks and, of course, flags were doing brisk business. Security guards frisked every ticket holder and special forces with automatic weapons at their side watched attentively.

The security presence was intimidating to an outsider, but the mood was merry as fans banged drums and inflatable sticks as they made their way to the venue. Inside, new seats in different shades of blue, a video scoreboard and a rich, green field provided stark contrast to the drab exterior.

A cool rain spoiled an otherwise delightful afternoon in this capital city, which sits at 4,900 feet, but as kickoff approached, the skies had cleared somewhat. Weather had been an issue for the U.S. team for several days, hastily uprooting its training camp in Miami ahead of Tropical Storm Fay. Upon arriving here, the team had to arrange to use a pair of small facilities.

Normally, the stadium is available for use by the visiting team the day before the match, but Tuesday's heavy storm disrupted those plans. Thanks to the assistance from a Guatemalan national working at the U.S. Embassy, the team was able to practice for about an hour before daylight faded over the dilapidated, unlit park.

The Americans actually began their World Cup qualifying schedule in June, but Barbados was hardly an obstacle in a two-game, second-round series that resulted in a 9-0 aggregate score. Not so long ago, the Americans would feel fortunate to escape with a tie in an environment like this one, but as the program has progressed and more U.S. players have gained experience in Europe, expectations have evolved.

Guatemala is not expected to seriously challenge for a World Cup berth, but with a 3-0 exhibition victory over Bolivia two weeks ago at RFK Stadium, the Chapines, as well as their supporters, were brimming with confidence.

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