The United States did not need to win Wednesday's game against Guatemala to advance to the Hexagonal - four wins in their first four games helped keep the final game little more than a tune-up.
But several young players needed to perform, and that's exactly what happened on Colorado. Kenny Cooper and Freddy Adu scored second-half goals and the U.S. beat Guatemala 2-0 to close out their qualifying campaign with a 5-1-0 record.
Now, Cooper isn't exactly young - at least not compared to Adu - but he showed why he belongs on the United States. Cooper made a perfect run on a well-placed cross from fellow striker Jozy Altidore and did well to finish his opportunity.
Later in the second half, Adu knocked a well-struck free kick into the back of the net to seal the victory.
Adu and Cooper are both fan favorites, both whom many expectations have had placed on them. Warranted or not, the two players have a lot to live up to and anything short of goals and consistent play will likely be considered failure.
For Cooper, though, all he needs is an opportunity. Despite scoring 18 goals in league, Cooper had not played in any World Cup qualifiers and was always the most bizarre omission whenever the national team roster came out. Cooper's supporters (of which I am one) must now keep from saying "I told you so" and need to hope Wednesday's performance was strong enough to allow for future call-ups.
Adu, meanwhile, showed why he can be so dangerous. His passing skills are an asset for sure but often Adu overdribbles and does not utilize his teammates to his best ability. But while that part of his game will continue to develop, his set piece ability is extraordinary. Wednesday's goal was no bit of luck as Adu did exactly what he intended to.
Adu and Cooper each have a long way go but the two gave hope for the future of the United States, hope that if nothing else the depth will increase substantially entering 2009. With 10 World Cup qualifying games and participation in the Confederations Cup, the U.S. will likely need every last bit of depth in a busy and important year.