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MLS stars make their presence felt in Gold Cup action at Red Bull Arena

On Friday night, the atmosphere for the Red Bulls’ 2-1 win against New England was electric. Fans for Monday’s 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup doubleheader at Red Bull Arena made sure they were not outdone.

25,000 fans of Guatemala, Grenada, Jamaica and Honduras, were treated to a compelling slate of games that had a little bit of everything. In the first match of the evening, a pair of MLS stars led the way for Guatemala as they beat Grenada by a score of 4-0. Chicago Fire’s Marco Pappa and Philadelphia Union’s Carlos Ruiz set the pace early and often for the Guatemalans, who advanced to the quarterfinals of the Gold Cup for the first time since 2007. Pappa scored a goal and added an assist, while Ruiz tallied another in a game that was dominated by Guatemala from the start.

“More than anything, this was a psychological and mental game,” Guatemala coach Ever Hugo Almeida said to the Associated Press. “We had to score a specific number of goals. We needed three goals, but we had to take it goal by goal. We were able to manage the game and get the result we wanted.”

In the nightcap, Jamaica took on Honduras in tightly contested match that would go a long way in determining the winner of Group B. Honduran fans came out in full force to cheer on their native country, filling up most of the 25,000 seat arena. Despite the overwhelming support for the Honduran side, Jamaica raced out to a fast start and controlled tempo throughout most of the first half. Red Bulls and Jamaican midfielder Dane Richards keyed numerous runs for the Reggae Boyz but they were not able to capitalize on early opportunities. In the 36th minute, Jamaica finally broke through and took advantage of an opportunity to grab an early lead. San Jose Earthquake’s forward Ryan Johnson struck a laser-like shot from 25 yards out the rang off the crossbar, bounced back down and off of the diving Honduran goalkeeper Noel Valladares for a bizarre 1-0 advantage.

"It's one of the strangest goals, but it's a goal," Johnson told the Associated Press. "The best thing was getting the clean sheet. We haven't been scored on so far and I'm really happy about that."

Honduras responded well out of the break and played a strong second half but it was Jamaica who had a golden opportunity to add another goal. Johnson was dragged down in the box, setting up a penalty kick for himself. This time, it was Valladares who got the better of Johnson as he made a remarkable stop to preserve the one-goal-deficit in the 72nd minute. Honduras kept the pressure on, setting up a frantic finish. The Hondurans had numerous chances late in the game and into stoppage time to get the equalizer, but the Jamaicans held strong and outlasted Honduras by a final of 1-0, despite being whistled for 31 fouls.