United States forward Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring against Guatemala during the first half of a World Cup qualifying soccer match in Kansas City, Kan., Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2012.
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Clint Dempsey had a pair of goals and assisted on Carlos Bocanegra's equalizer, and the United States rallied to beat Guatemala 3-1 Tuesday night and reached next year's final round of World Cup qualifying.
Facing their first elimination game in qualifying since 2000, the Americans needed merely a draw to advance to the six-team finals in North and Central America and the Caribbean. After Carlos Ruiz put Guatemala ahead in the fifth minute, Dempsey set up Bocanegra's goal in the 10th minute, then scored in the 18th and 36th. With 30 international goals, Dempsey tied Brian McBride for third-most in American history.
The U.S. (4-1-1), seeking its seventh straight World Cup appearance, topped its semifinal group with 13 points.
Guatemala, which has never appeared in a World Cup, was eliminated when Dane Richards scored two goals late in the second half in Jamaica's 4-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda. Guatemala and Jamaica were both 3-2-1 for 10 points apiece, but the Reggae Boyz overtook Guatemala on goal difference, plus-3 to plus-1.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said before the game that "you can only win a game if you attack and go forward, and that's what we're going to do. We're not going to look for a tie."
That certainly held true.
The Americans were the more the aggressive team its German coach has been trying to develop and less like the side that struggled over a muddy cricket pitch to a 2-1 victory over Antigua on Friday - an outcome that took most of the pressure off Tuesday night's game.
Still, Los Chapines caused tension when they scored in the opening minutes.
Jose Contreras took possession in the midfield and sent a looping pass ahead to Ruiz, who managed to beat Bocanegra to the ball as Geoff Cameron was caught upfield. Bocanegra joined Cameron at center back while Michael Parkhurst took over on the left and Clarence Goodson was benched in the only American lineup changes from Friday.
Ruiz rounded goalkeeper Tim Howard and side-footed the ball into the goal. As if a harbinger of things to come, Ruiz appeared to hurt himself seconds after scoring.
He reached out to steady himself on the electronic signage near the field, and may have sliced his hand. He grimaced and immediately began shaking it while a trainer rushed out to tend to him.
The tying goal came just a few minutes later.
Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi, playing in his home stadium, sent a corner kick arcing into the penalty area, and Dempsey got just enough of it to redirect to Bocanegra, who was left alone by Manuel Leon near the far post and easily found the back of the net.
It was Bocanegra's 14th goal with the national team, moving him past Marcelo Balboa for the most among American defenders. It also generated a roar from a sellout crowd of 16,947 that would have been much larger if officials could have sold standing-room tickets.
Ruiz nearly had his second goal in the 18th minute when his header went over the crossbar, and the Americans quickly came back on the counter. The ball was pushed ahead to Eddie Johnson on the wing, and he found Dempsey cutting to the net ahead of defender Jonathan Lopez.
Dempsey deftly scored over the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez for a 2-1 lead, while Johnson picked up an assist to go with the two goals he scored against Antigua in his first international appearance in two years.
Guatemala had a couple of other good scoring chances later in the half, including a shot by Contreras from a sharp angle that Howard knocked away, and a breakaway on which Ruiz was called for a foul on American defender Steve Cherundolo near the top of the penalty box.
Cherundolo tried to shake hands with Ruiz, who was having none of it.
The U.S. pressure paid off again in the 36th minute, when Michael Bradley popped a pass over the sprawled-out Jerez and Dempsey tapped the ball across. Dempsey nearly had a hat-trick when he just missed on a header early in the second half, and then picked up a yellow card for diving in second-half stoppage time.
The Reggae Boyz needed to make up a three-goal differential on Guatemala in a victory. Richards' goals in the 78th and 88th minutes in Kingston, Jamaica, allowed them to advance.
Also advancing to the six-team finals are Mexico, Honduras and Panama, while Costa Rica and El Salvador played late games for the final spot in the hexagonal.
NOTES: The finals start March 22. ... The Americans likely will play an exhibition at Russia on Nov. 14 in their final game this year.