New England Soccer Today

Winning Ugly

Clint Dempsey scored from the penalty spot in the U.S.'s 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda on Friday. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Three points was the expected result as the U.S. Men’s National Team took on Antigua & Barbuda to open World Cup Qualifying and that’s what they got with a 3-1 win in heavy rain on Friday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Yet, despite the victory, it was hardly a promising start for the 28th ranked U.S., as they failed to show the dominance expected on the scoreboard against their 105th ranked opponents. The win puts the U.S. atop Group A in the third round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, a group they’re heavily favored to win, but left worrying signs as they move forward to tougher opposition.

As expected, the U.S. controlled the possession with 75% along with 89% passing accuracy, but that dominance didn’t translate to as many goals as hoped, perhaps in part due to the poor weather conditions and Antigua’s defensive style, but also due to underwhelming play by the U.S. Possibly more worrying than the low score was the U.S. allowing Antigua to cut the lead to 2-1 early in the second half after going into the break with a two goal lead behind strikes from Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey.

Only a 72nd minute strike from Herculez Gomez would clinch the 3-1 victory for the heavily favored home side.

After the U.S. failed to threaten Antigua’s net in the opening minutes, Bocanegra had the breakthrough, tapping in a rebound from close range eight minutes into the match. Goalkeeper Molvin James denied an initial header from Gomez off a Landon Donovan corner kick with an impressive save, but couldn’t hold onto the ball and could do nothing on Bocanegra’s effort.

James would later deny Michael Bradley from a tight angle after a run into the box off a short corner in the 14th minute. The 23-year-old ‘keeper then kept out Clarence Goodson’s header off Donovan free kick right in the 28th minute.

Antigua first tested the U.S. backline in the 38th minute. A quick free kick sprung Tamarley Thomas down the right flank and the 28-year-old sent a square pass to Dexter Blackstock at the top of the box. Blackstock hammered a low shot on frame, but Goodson slid in to block the shot and prevent a potential equalizing goal.

Six minutes after Antigua spurned their best chance of the half, Dempsey doubled the U.S. lead from the penalty spot in the 44th minute. The former New England Revolution star hit a low shot that caught James diving the wrong way after Donovan had earned the U.S. a penalty kick when he was hacked down from behind in the box.

The U.S. suffered a blow in the 53rd minute after Jose Torres, filling in at left back, suffered an injury while making a tackle. Torres was subbed out three minutes later for Oguchi Oneywu with Bocanegra sliding to left back.

The change nearly had an immediate impact as Bocanegra raced forward from his new spot and found Gomez in the box with a low pass. Gomez blasted a shot that was only denied by the crossbar.

Antigua shockingly cut the deficit to one in the 65th minute through substitute Peter Byers, Antigua’s all-time leading scorer. Byers, who entered the game just three minutes earlier, beat Onyewu and ran in on goal to finish past Tim Howard from about ten yards.

The U.S. piled the pressure on the visitors soon after and both Dempsey and Michael Bradley forced James into big saves from distance. Then, off a 71st minute corner kick, James made an impressive save off a header from Gomez after Onyewu flicked a Donovan corner kick to the far post.

Gomez would finally bring the lead back to two in the 72nd minute. Donovan made a nice run down the right flank before sending a square pass to Bradley. The Chievo midfielder blasted a shot that was blocked, but the ball bounced around the box to Gomez who had an easy tap-in to put the U.S. up, 3-1.

Head coach  Jurgen Klinsmann would bring on strikers Jozy Altidore and Terrence Boyd with ten minutes to go, but neither was able to threatened James’ net before the final whistle.

The U.S. returns to CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying action on Tuesday against Guatemala in Guatemala City at 10 p.m.

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