Squaring off against Haiti at CenturyLink Field Saturday afternoon, Peru earned a 1-0 victory and three points in its first group-stage match of the 16-team Copa America Centenario. The event came off worse than Haiti.
Haiti turned in a strong performance against superior opposition, while the the first of three tourney games in Seattle this month failed to attract a crowd of significant size for an admittedly non-marquee matchup. The alleged 20,190 in attendance were dwarfed by the number of empty seats at the Clink.
The first minutes made Peru look like a schoolyard bully picking on a child three grades younger. Despite Haiti’s superior physicality and conditioning, Peru easily passed through the Caribbean nation’s defensive midfield.
Still, Haiti (the 74th-ranked team in the world, against Peru’s 48) stuck around, largely helped by their keeper, Johnny Placide, who made four saves.
The Haitians pressed on, and bent the game to their favor late in the first half. A Jerome Mechack free kick floated just over the cross bar in the 31st minute, while Peru’s Edison Flores rocketed a shot off the right post just before the teams went up the tunnel at halftime with the scoreboard empty.
Peru broke the deadlock in the 61st minute. Flores sent an early cross that curled over the Haitian center backs, perfectly picking out the head of a diving Paolo Guerrero to give the South American team the edge. The goal was Guerrero’s 27th for his country, making him the nation’s all-time leading scorer.
Haiti tried to break open the game the way it had in the first half, but Les Grenadiers were unable to break down Peru’s defensive shell. A golden chance fell to substitute Kervens Belfort in the match’s final seconds, when a free kick spun in front of his head, but his touch put the ball just outside the post.
When the whistle blew seconds later, Belfort fell to the pitch and wept. His teammates had to help the 24-year old striker to his feet.
The drama on the pitch pleased those who turned up for the match. The crowd, largely pro-Peru, seemed a great deal smaller than the announced figure. Whether that was from fudging of the numbers, or the cavernous atmosphere of a mostly empty double-decker stadium, the vacant seats will be a punch to the nose for tournament officials, who had hoped to cash in on Seattle’s passion for soccer.
Officials hope the presence of tourney favorite Argentina, the No. 1 team in the world according to FIFA’s ranking system, will draw larger numbers for the June 14 match against Bolivia.
U.S. drops 2-0 decision to Colombia in Copa opener
The USMNT lost 2-0 to Colombia in the Copa America’s first match at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, CA., Friday night. The U.S. conceded the first goal in the eighth minute when Cristian Zapata volleyed a cross into the net. Colombia added another tally in the 42nd minute when Real Madrid’s James Rodriguez converted a penalty kick after former Seattle Sounder DeAndre Yedlin was whistled for a hand ball in the box.
The U.S. next plays CONCACAF rival Costa Rica at Soldier Field in Chicago Tuesday (5 p.m., FS1).