In a rather sloppy game at Raymond Jones stadium in Tampa, Florida, the United States claimed their first 3 points in World Cup qualifying and shot to the top of their group after defeating Antigua & Barbuda 3-1.
Klinsmann and the US came in with a very attacking mindset, having midfielder Jose Torres step in at left back for the injured Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo. While most were probably expecting an actual defender for the open position, Klinsmann stated that he was expecting a lot of possession, so wanted someone willing to move forward with confidence on the ball.
The lineup finished out in a 4-3-3 as follows
Strikers – Gomez, Dempsey, Donovan
Midfield – Jones, Edu, Bradley
Defense – Torres, Goodson, Bocanegra, Cherundolo
Keeper – Howard
The rain was pouring and had been for some time when game coverage started. This kept up into game time as well. From the opening whistle, the touches were very slow and the ball was skipping all over the field. This however didn’t prove to be too much of a distraction. Because in the 7th minute, the US got on the score sheet and broke the tie. Herculez Gomez headed a Donovan corner, and although the shot was saved, captain, Carlos Bocanegra, followed the ball and scored from a yard out. This attacking intent continued while Jones struck a shot well over 5 minutes later and Dempsey and Bradley won corners after great dribbling displays. After the terrible attacking display from the 4-4-2 formation against Canada, it was nice to see the 4-3-3 formation back with a great deal of attacking.
The US really held possession for the entire first half, but they had a great deal of trouble testing the Antigua and Barbuda keeper. They were stringing together many passes but seemed reluctant to shoot. The opposition nearly tied it up midway though the first half but defender, Clarence, Goodson blocked the shot. This theme of a lot of the ball with little turnout continued through the half until a breakthrough in the 43rd. The two biggest names from the US, Dempsey and Donovan, combined on a 1-2 pass which sent Donovan speeding past the A&B defense. The defender’s tackle was late and took down Donovan in the box, giving the US a much-deserved penalty. Dempsey sent it right down the middle to give the States a 2-0 lead before the half.
The curse of the left back continued for the US in the second as Torres was carried of the field after suffering an ankle injury. Klinsmann addressed the injury by putting in the big center back, Oguchi Onyewu, and moving Bocanegra out wide. Bocanegra immediately made an impact moving up by dribbling creatively around the Antigue defense and crossing it to Gomez who hit the crossbar. Soon after the US again failed to punish the opponent when a close own goal nearly put the US up by 3.
This failing to attack proved to possibly be costly in the 65th. Leading Antigua striker, Peter Byers, received a pass and shot by a stabbing Onyewu who then failed to catch up with the attacker afterwards. Byers hit the 1v1 opportunity into the back of the net and made the game very interesting again. This may be one of Onyewu’s later performances for the U.S. He really doesn’t look to the imposing “Gooch” from years past. Since his lengthy injury, He seems slower, and his lack of matches is really apparent. A&B had a new sense of energy after the goal and looked to be threatening to take all 3 point away from the US, but this was also a wakeup call to the home squad. In the 70th, Dempsey and Bradley finally pulled the trigger, taking shots from distance. Both lead to dangerous deflections off the keeper.
In the 72nd minute, Herculez Gomez put the game beyond all doubt as he scored on a rare “3rd chance effort”. The hard-working Gomez started the attack playing a through ball to Donovan on the wing. Donovan played it back across 12 yards out while he shot it into one defender’s leg. He got the rebound and shot it again into another defender’s leg. On his third shot, all he hit was the net. The keeper was on the ground diving to block his previous shot, and it left the goal open for Gomez’s last shot, as the scoreline became 3-1.
The US sloppily possessed for the final bit of the game and nearly allowed the opposition but Howard proved his worth and the game ended with the same score: 3-1.
Summary- Highlights and lowlights:
Though not having the touch of Dempsey, the pace of Donovan, or the international pedigree of any of our 3 midfielders, Herculez Gomez proved his worth for the national squad once again. Most considered Altidore as a lock for the starting striker before this camp and recent sweep of games. However, Gomez has made the US much more dangerous in the attack with his tireless work ethic and constant movement. He is often the one for the US receiving through balls because of his many diagonal runs. I can see two things coming from this. 1) Gomez becomes THE starter and continues his great form, or 2) He lights a fire under Jozy Altidore to win his spot back and Altidore increases his work rate and improves. Either way, I’m happy.
The only positive from Oguchi Onyewu, is that he came in a match in which we were already up 2-0 and possessed nearly all the game. With the left-back being a new problem area with injuries, the defense looks slightly susceptible. Cameron looks the shoo-in to play the middle while moving Bocanegra to the left. Michael Parkhurst, another defender on the roster, could fill in on the outside, but Cameron seems to be preferred by Klinsmann at the moment.
Now it’s official, Terrence Boyd is a US player. The States may have lost Timmy Chandler to Germany as he turned down the chance to play for the United States in this sweep of games. This left his chance to play for the German national team open. Unless one has played in a “competitive match”, that option of transfer remains open if they have dual citizenship. Well young striker Terrence Boyd came on as a sub, playing in an official match and making him a US player for the future. While his performance wasn’t the best and he seems a bit raw, the German-born player is young, big, and has a great future for our country, especially with Klinsmann at the helm, who is known to be a big fan of the 21-year-old striker.
As stated earlier, the US needs to take more shots. For much of this game, the US seemed gun-shy. Many passed up open shots to try one more pass, but this often didn’t work. It wasn’t until 70 minutes in that the US finally woke up and pressured the keeper from distance. We got away with the win, but this was against the lowest ranked squad in our qualifying group. We need to show more urgency to get to goal in our remaining games.
It wasn’t the best win ever, but a win is a win, and the USMNT are 3 points to the better now.