By Steve Kinkead
The US Men’s National Soccer Team won all three of its 2014 World Cup qualifying games in June, putting them in front of the six team CONCACAF group. Over the course of twelve days, the US Men defeated Jamaica 2-1, Panama 2-0 and Honduras 1-0. After six games, the US has 13 points, leading Costa Rica on 11 and Mexico at 8. Four games are left to play in the region, with the top three teams automatically qualifying for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil. The fourth place team, currently Honduras with 7 points, plays a home and home playoff with New Zealand for the final qualifying spot.
The US Men opened the three-game stretch with a June 7th matchup in Kingston, Jamaica at the National Stadium, commonly known as The Office. Jozy Altidore, fresh from scoring 31 goals last season for his Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, got the US on top in the 30th minute. He headed home a cross from Graham Zusi on the right wing, putting the US in the lead until the 89th minute. Jamaica’s Jermaine Bickford got behind the US defense for a tying header off a free kick and it looked like the US would come away with just a point. In stoppage, though, it was Brad Evans scoring his first National Team goal for the winner. The US won a corner on the left, and Michael Bradley played a one-two with Zusi. Bradley hit a short ball in to an unmarked Evans at the edge of the box, who turned and, falling backward, swept the ball in the far side netting to earn all the points for the visitors.
Just four days later in Seattle and the US faced a determined, but undermanned, Panama team. The game was played on freshly laid grass at CenturyLink Field in front of over 40,000 raucous fans. The US started strong with several opportunities and at least one legitimate penalty shout, but it took until the 36th minute of play for them to get on the board. Michael Bradley started the play with a run through the middle before hitting the ball wide to a flying Fabian Johnson on the left. Hitting the ball with his first touch, Johnson sent a perfect low cross in front of the goal. Clint Dempsey was making a strong run into the box and drew the defenders and goalie out, and the ball found Jozy Altidore coming to the back post for the goal. Altidore’s third goal in as many games for the US proved to be the winner, but the home side wasn’t satisfied.
Hometown favorite Eddie Johnson, starting for the suspended Zusi, scored off a long pass from central midfielder Geoff Cameron, who was starting for the injured Jermaine Jones. Cameron picked up the ball deep in the US half and spotted Johnson on the right wing. He hit the ball over the defenders and Johnson, timing his run perfectly, had only the keeper to beat. The final scoreline could have been greater for the US, but Demarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey both hit the frame and it ended at 2-0.
Finishing up the June qualifiers on the 18th, the US took on Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the home of MSL side Real Salt Lake. Honduras played solid defense on a hot evening, looking for the occasional break and frustrated the US for most of the game. Once again, though, it was Jozy Altidore coming up big with a 73rd minute goal. Scoring in his fourth consecutive national team game, Altidore hit a left-footed strike into the lower right corner after Fabian Johnson played the ball in for him. This was the only goal and helps set up the US as it faces a tough stretch in its next two qualifying games in September against Costa Rica and Mexico.
Next up for the US is a game against Guatemala before the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, then the team heads to Sarajevo for a friendly in August against Bosnia-Herzegovina. World Cup Qualifying resumes in September with two tough games. On September 6 the men travel to Costa Rica, following that with a home tilt against Mexico on the 10th in Columbus. Barring a playoff, the final two qualifying games are in October against Jamaica in Kansas City and at Panama.