Brutal, miserable, pointless
class=img_thumbleft>I should have known better than to get excited about last night's U.S.-Guatemala match. Anyone with a rational bone in their body would have recognized the silliness of this encounter. The U.S. has made it abundantly clear in recent years that they can beat any team in their region on home turf, especially Guatemala. In fact they'd never lost to Guatemala on U.S. soil, and last suffered defeat to the pint-sized Central American country two decades ago.
What the Americans need to prove in the wake of last summer's debacle in Germany is that they can defeat World Cup-caliber competition on foreign ground. But the team will never get that chance if U.S. Soccer continues to schedule friendlies against crappy CONCACAF countries in half empty Texas stadiums.
I knew it was going to be a long night when I walked into the Sweetwater and discovered karaoke patrons torturing classics by the likes of Billy Joel and The Proclaimers. Then Eddie Johnson was stymied twice from close range in the opening minutes of the game and it was clear that the most interesting aspect of the game was going to be whether anyone decks El Pescadito. (Here's hoping Curt Onalfo is sacrificing a lot of livestock this offseason in hopes of reclaiming the Grown Ass Man's scoring touch.)
The second half was an abomination. The U.S. didn't seem to have a clue how to unlock the entrenched Guatemala defense. The visitors spent most of the half flopping around on the ground in faux agony trying to kill off the game. For what? A lousy point in a meaningless friendly that ESPN should've pulled the plug on at halftime.
What positives can we take from this nil-nil draw? For starters it was a ridiculously young U.S. squad. With the exception of goalkeeper Kasey Keller (37!), there were no players in the starting XI over 30. In fact, defenders Jimmy Conrad and Jay DeMerit were the only starters older than 25. Let's hope these kids learned something (don't ask me what) from this contest.
The tandem of Justin Mapp and Jonathan Spector looked dangerous and unpredictable, bombing up the left side repeatedly (at least in the first half). Is this the left side duo of the future? DaMarcus Beasley will certainly have something to say about that.
The defense, featuring three youngsters with little international experience (Spector, DeMerit, and Frank Simek) was generally composed and organized. They didn't let Ruiz goad them into anything stupid. (If you don't know the sweet story of DeMerit's improbable rise through the ranks, from pub league soccer to the EPL, read this fantastic Grant Wahl piece.)
The U.S. men are now on hiatus until June 2 when they'll take on China in preparation for their two big international tournaments, the Gold Cup and Copa America. In the meantime I'll be filling this space with coverage of MLS and my beloved Minnesota Thunder. Home opener is only 38 days away! And it will be free!
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