Marco Pappa scored on a free kick in the 83rd minute, giving Guatemala a 1-1 tie with the United States in a World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night.
Clint Dempsey put the United States 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, put a 24-yard shot just under the crossbar that froze goalkeeper Tim Howard.
It was a disappointing result for the 28th-ranked Americans, who failed for long stretches to impose their will against 85th-ranked Guatemala, a team that has never qualified for the World Cup.
Seeking its seventh straight appearance in soccer’s showcase, the US (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) is last with one point.
The top two teams advance to next year’s six-nation regional finals, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
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, talking touches as he sidestepped 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. When the second half started, Guatemala just missed with a header that went narrowly over the crossbar following a corner kick.
Johnson returned to left back after missing Friday’s game because of a strained calf muscle.
US coach Jurgen 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.
Guatemala argued unsuccessfully for a penalty kick early in the second half 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 played open and put the ball in the net in the 79th, only play has been whistled by referee Joel Aguilar of El Salvador.
The game was shown on pay-per-view in the US after the Guatemalan federation, which owns the rights, sold them to Traffic Sports. The US 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.