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Despite 3-1 win, United States too timid in front of goal

Landon Donovan against Antigua and Barbuda

Photo Credit: 
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TAMPA, Fla. – It came as no surprise that the United States dominated the stat sheet against Antigua and Barbuda – the home side bossed possession and outshot their rivals 19-7, 11-1 counting shots on frame. Ask the American players, though, and they’ll tell you it should’ve been more.

"I think we wanted to get the perfect opportunity," Landon Donovan said after the win. "I think we should have been better about shooting."

Though the Americans bossed the numbers game, the statistical discrepancy could have been much higher. Too often they attempted to make the perfect final pass instead of blasting a shot at the Antigua goalkeeper, who struggled to deal with the few long-range attempts the Americans offered.

Part of the difficulty stemmed from the impressive defensive effort put forth by the visitors. The US expected Antigua to pack in and defend, but Tom Curtis' squad stuck to the plan even better than anticipated.

"They were a little more organized defensively than I thought they might be," the LA Galaxy star said. 

Jurgen Klinsmann agreed: "Antigua did a very good job defending. They were very tight. They made it difficult for us to create chances.”

As a result, when US attackers looked for shooting lanes, they found them clogged by two, three, even four Antigua defenders. Donovan, Clint Dempsey and the rest of the American strike force opted to pass and pass again, frequently losing the ball before the perfect opportunity presented itself.

But that's only part of the story.

With Antigua packed in so tightly, there were plenty of chances to shoot from distance.

At halftime, Klinsmann asked his team to take more opportunities. And, as Dempsey explained, a few more dangerous shots from outside the area would have had another effect as well: It would have forced Antigua to defend higher, creating space.

"You gotta take shots for them to start getting tight to you," the Fulham standout said. "The tighter they get, the more you can do give-and-gos and get behind them. Otherwise, they are just going to keep sitting back off you.

"So yeah, we should have taken more shots. I think in second half we tried to do a little bit more of that, but we weren't able to get as many goals as we wanted tonight."

In the end though, the US' superior talent prevailed in Raymond James Stadium. However, they will face a tougher task on June 12 when they travel to Guatemala for the second match of Group A play.

Los Chapines will likely also drop numbers behind the ball and force the Americans to create in tight spaces. That means Donovan and his teammates will have to be ready to open up.

"As a general statement, we can say that instead of trying to make that last pass, shoot and get the ball on frame," the forward asserted.