GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — About 10 minutes from opening a comfortable lead in its semifinal group of World Cup qualifying, the United States stumbled.
Marco Pappa scored on a free kick in the 83rd minute, giving Guatemala a 1-1 tie with the Americans on Tuesday night in Guatemala City.
Clint Dempsey put the U.S. ahead in the 40th minute, but Fabian Johnson pulled down Carlos Ruiz just outside the penalty area to set up the late free kick in a dangerous position. Pappa, a Chicago Fire midfielder, froze goalkeeper Tim Howard with a 24-yard shot that went just under the crossbar.
“When you control the game the way we did, especially after we scored the goal and passed around the ball really well, you’re a bit disappointed when something like that happens,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “But overall it was a good game from our end. I’m happy with the performance. I would love three points but I will take it the way it is.”
The 28th-ranked Americans were outshot 13-11 by 85th-ranked Guatemala, a team that has never qualified for the World Cup.
Seeking its seventh straight appearance in soccer’s showcase, the U.S. (1-0-1) tops Group A of North and Central America and the Caribbean on goal difference over Jamaica (1-0-1), which tied 0-0 tie at Antigua and Barbuda. Guatemala (0-1-1) and Antigua (0-1-1) have one point each.
The top two teams advance to next year’s six-nation regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
“I think it’s an open group, and it will be a competition until the very last game,” Klinsmann said. “We wanted three points but we’re OK with the one point that we take away leading the group.”
The Americans extended their unbeaten streak against Guatemala to 18 games (12-0-6) since 1988 and improved to 6-0-5 against the Guatemalans in World Cup qualifying.
Dempsey scored his 27th international goal off a play that started with a short pass from Johnson on the left. Dempsey cut across to his right, taking two touches as he sidestepped slipping defenders Carlos Gallardo and Erwin Morales, then wrong-footed Ricardo Jerez Jr. with a right-footed shot from 16 yards to the goalkeeper’s right.
It was Dempsey’s 28th goal of the season for club and country, including 23 for England’s Fulham.
Just before the goal, Howard made a diving save on Carlos Figueroa’s open 10-yard shot from an angle. Ruiz nearly tied the score in first-half injury time, hooking just wide on a left-footed shot from the top of the arc.
Johnson returned to left back after missing Friday’s game because of a strained calf muscle.
Klinsmann gave Geoff Cameron his World Cup qualifying debut, bringing him in to start the second half in place of Clarence Goodson, who had gotten a yellow card in the 23rd.
Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida used all three substitutes to start the second half, just as he did Friday. Pappa, Manuel Leon and Dwight Pezzarossi replaced Figueroa, Jose Contreras and Mario Rodriguez.
When the second half started, Pezzarossi just missed with a header that went narrowly over the crossbar following a corner kick.
Guatemala argued unsuccessfully for a penalty kick after American defender Carlos Bocanegra kicked a clearance up off his own hand. Jozy Altidore entered at forward for Herculez Gomez in the 64th minute.
Howard made a diving stop on Rodriguez’s 5-yard in shot in the 69th after a corner kick was headed in front of the goal. Then, with the net wide open, Ruiz skied the rebound over the crossbar.
Altidore was open and put the ball in the net in the 79th, only play had been whistled by referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador, who decided against letting the U.S. play advantage.
After the game, Klinsmann already was looking ahead to the September qualifier at Jamaica.
“We have to get that result, as well, which we will do,” he said, “and we’ll be one of the two top teams that advance.”
NOTES: The game was shown on pay-per-view in the U.S. after the Guatemalan federation, which owns the rights, sold them to Traffic Sports. … The U.S. next plays in an exhibition on Aug. 15, most likely at Mexico. The Americans resume qualifying Sept. 7 at Jamaica, then host the Reggae Boyz four days later at Columbus, Ohio. … Johnson received a yellow card for the foul that led to the tying goal. Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu also received yellow cards.