Yanks return to form

Posted: Thursday, March 31, 2005

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — At this rate, Eddie Johnson will put the United States into the World Cup by himself.

A day shy of his 21st birthday, Johnson scored in the 11th minute and set up Steve Ralston's goal in the 68th to lead the United States over Guatemala 2-0 Wednesday night for a key win in World Cup qualifying.

''Not scoring in Mexico, I was kind of down,'' Johnson said. ''I knew I had to be better this game.''

Johnson, who also nearly connected on an audacious bicycle kick, has eight goals in eight international appearances, an astonishing figure that has caused European clubs to express interest in acquiring him from Major League Soccer's Dallas team. Seven of the goals have come in World Cup qualifiers, tying him with Brian McBride for second on the U.S. career list, two behind Earnie Stewart.

''Obviously, the first goal was a great goal and obviously took a little bit of pressure off of us,'' U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Just three days after playing tentatively and conservatively in the dismal 2-1 loss at Mexico, the Americans opened with one of their most high-octane performances, outshooting the Guatemalans 19-10.

By winning their first home game in the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the Americans improved to 2-1, one point behind Mexico (2-0-1), which tied 1-1 at Panama (0-1-2). Next with four points are Guatemala (1-1-1) and Costa Rica (1-1-1), which was held to a 0-0 tie at Trinidad and Tobago (0-2-1).

U.S. players are confident they will advance to their fifth straight World Cup and were surprised so much was made of the weekend loss in Mexico City's Estadio Azteca.

''We play I don't know if it was 15, 16 games without losing, we have really one bad half, one bad five minutes in Mexico against a very good team at an incredible altitude and in nasty smog,'' Landon Donovan said, ''and all of a sudden we're the worst team in CONCACAF. It just makes some peace and quiet for a week, so that people can leave us alone. But we needed that.''

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