U.S. is not impressive, but dispatches Antigua & Barbuda 3-1 to open qualifying.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, June 8, 2012) -- The United States men began the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying by grinding out a workmanlike, but not very impressive 3-1 victory over tiny Antigua & Barbuda before a rain-soaked crowd of 23,971 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.
As could be expected, Antigua packed in its defense, playing a 4-5-1 formation which saw it often have all 11 players behind the ball. U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann opened with an offense-minded 4-3-3 with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez up front and Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in the midfield. The U.S. tried to play Klinsmann's quick, short passing offense, but against the densely packed Antiguans, the Americans' short passes were picked off and their chances on goal proved to be more difficult than they probably should have been.
Although the U.S. dominated much of the action, at least during the first hour, and outshot the visitors 19-7, 11-2 on frame, the American shots were not crisp. More troublesome for the U.S. was the degree to which it let off the gas in the final 30 minutes, allowing Antigua to score a goal while doing little on attack itself.
Over the final 10 minutes, with forwards Terrance Boyd and Jozy Altidore inserted into the midfield, the U.S. looked a bit disorganized and clearly tired. The idea for the Americans was to win easily while expending as little energy as possible, saving it for what likely will be a very tough qualifier in Guatemala on Tuesday night. Actually, the Antiguans did not follow that script exactly and the U.S. needed fresh legs to finish out the match.
Undoubtedly, the weather did not favor the U.S., with rain falling throughout the game and making things a bit more difficult than would a dry fast field. Many American passes went skidding away rather than reaching their intended targets.
The U.S. went into the match with its two first-choice left backs both injured. Fabian Johnson, the likely starter, strained a calf before last Sunday's 0-0 draw in a friendly with Canada and his backup, Edgar Castillo, injured a hamstring in training last night.
So Klinsmann started José Torres at left back, but that is something of a misnomer because he was pushed up into the midfield and for most of the first 56 minutes. Then, Torres went out injured and the U.S. played with three in the back.
Antigua certainly didn't embarrass itself tonight. Much as the U.S. has looked for eligible players in Germany, Antigua coach Tom Curtis has mined England's lower divisions looking for players with Antiguan ancestry. In Mikele Leigertwood, whose "Goal of the Year" in the League Championship earned Reading promotion into the Premier League, and striker Dexter Blackstock of second-tier Nottingham Forest, Curtis found two good ones.
The bottom line was the U.S. did what it had to do, but did not look particularly good in doing it. Part of that was the weather, part Antigua's packed-in defense and part wanting to get it over with and onto Guatemala City for Tuesday night's all-important contest.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5.5: He had almost nothing to do and cannot be faulted for the goal.
Defender José Torres - 5.5: Played a very offensive midfield in spite of his listing as the left back.
Defender Clarence Goodson - 5: With the U.S. getting 15 corner kicks, he was in position time and time to head a ball into the net, but he could not connect. Defensively, he was not put under much pressure, but while not directly at fault, did not react in time to the one goal allowed.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: He was good as the center back and equally good on the left side when he was moved there after Torres came off. At left back, he was able to get forward and almost had a second goal to go with his early score.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: He did his usual professional job. Got forward occasionally, but was almost never out of position at the back. His only misstep was at the start of the play that resulted in the Antiguan goal.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5.5: Did not distinguish himself either offensively or defensively, but at the same time, he did little wrong.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: He was called on to play a more defensive role, but he still was able to combine on a number of forward thrusts. He seemed to tire over the final 30 minutes.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5.5: His passing, both long passes and short, was sharp and he worked hard defensively in the midfield. With Donovan and Dempsey, he hung back and covered well.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 6: A major threat all night, he was finally able to work some give-and-goes with Donovan. He should have shot more often, especially from distance. He converted a penalty kick nicely.
Forward Landon Donovan - 6.5: Very active on attack and very involved all night. His corners and crosses were right on, time after time.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 6: He had a very high work rate, moving from the right side to left, and back again. He could have seen more of the ball and his goal was a just reward for a lot of hard work.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu (56th minute for Torres) - 4: Dreadful error led directly to Antiguan goal. One might have to wonder about his fitness and whether he has slowed as much as it seems after coming back from serious injury six months ago.
Forward\midfielder Terrence Boyd (79th minute for Jones) - 5.5: His appearance now ties him to the U.S. for his international career and that in itself is a positive. He did not have much to do in the 10 minutes he was on the field.
Forward Jozy Altidore (79th minute for Gomez) - 5: He had little impact on the match.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Carlos Bocanegra
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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