Wednesday, December 29, 2010
America's romp could pay Guatemala dividends
By Scott French
The good news for Guatemala: Its foes at next month's Copa Centroamericana aren't going to be as talented as the Club America side it battled Wednesday night in El Reto Aguila in front of 18,632 at the Home Depot Center.
The bad news: The Chapines are going to have to mature, and fast, to contend with those foes.
America romped to a 4-1 triumph in a game much closer than the score suggests -- one goal separated the sides until the 82th minute -- yet just as one-sided as a three-goal victory ought to be.
The Mexico City powerhouse played a first-choice lineup -- all but injured Rosinei -- in its next-to-last prep before the Mexican Primera Division kicks off its Clausura season the second weekend of January, and it looks ready to make two title runs: in the domestic championship and Copa Libertadores.
The three-pronged attack -- Vicente Sanchez, Matias Vuoso and Daniel Montenegro, with midfielders Miguel Layun and newcomer Nicolas Olivera plus right back Oscar Rojas in support -- deserved more than it produced, and veteran Pavel Pardo masterfully laid a foundation in midfield for the attackers. And goalkeeper Memo Ochoa, America's reigning superstar, handled almost everything the game Guatemalans threw at him.
America went ahead on Vuoso's 19th-minute penalty kick -- Jaime Vides clipped Sanchez after a superb ball into space from Olivera -- and asserted command on a game-altering, end-to-end sequence about 10 minutes before the end of the first half.
The Chapines' inexperienced lineup had stayed with America the first 35 minutes. Carlos Figueroa, one of just five starters with more than 15 caps, was alternately awful and awesome, and he was both at a crucial juncture.
Figueroa did well to recover the ball after a silly giveaway, leaping over America's Juan Carlos Valenzuela to nod the ball to former Galaxy midfielder Pando Ramirez. Figueroa took the return pass, danced past Aquivaldo Mosquera and Patricio Trevino and tried to dribble around a prone Ochoa, who stuck his right leg out to end the threat.
Off America went on a counter up the left flank, with Sanchez delivering a ball across the Guatemalan box for Layun, and just like that it was 2-0.
Ramirez scored for Guatemala just before halftime, volleying off Ochoa's left hand, and a shaky Armando Navarrete -- he replaced Ochoa at halftime -- provided the Chapines chances in the second half, but there was never really any doubt, even before Angel Reyna scored and assisted goals two minutes apart at the end.
“The result was a very big punishment for us, because we played well for moments ...,” Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida said. “It's an embarrassing scoreline. When you lose, 4-1, who's going to believe you [when you say you played well]?”
Guatemala didn't play poorly, but America's speed on the flanks caused a lot of problems, and there was an abrupt difference in talent. No big deal: America might be the most talented team in Mexico, which means it might be the most talented team in North and Central America.
Almeida doesn't have every player he desires for the Copa Centroamericana, which begins Jan. 14. He's trying to get a young team, an inexperienced team, ready for group-stage matches against Honduras and Costa Rica, Central America's most powerful national sides.
On Wednesday, he gave three players their international debuts -- 29-year-old Gregory Ruiz, a second-half sub, certainly impressed. Two more were making just their second appearances for the national team, another his third, and another his fourth.
The intensity of the matches in Panama will surpass that at HDC, but going up against America -- and battling on fairly even terms much of the night -- will serve its purpose when the games with Costa Rica and Honduras arrive.
And there's another bit of good news, too. Five of seven teams at the Copa Centroamericana advance to the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Guatemala can lose both of its group games, then beat Nicaragua or Belize in the fifth-place game -- an encounter the Chapines ought to dominate -- and it's through.