TAMPA, Fla. – It wasn't pretty, but the United States national team got the result it needed in the first match of 2014 World Cup qualifying, defeating an organized but overmatched Antigua and Barbuda squad 3-1 at a rainy Raymond James Field on Friday night.
Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez scored for the Americans, who started Jose Torres at left back with Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo out injured. Second-half substitute Peter Byers had the lone tally for the visitors.
Bocanegra opened the scoring in the eighth minute. A Landon Donovan corner found Gomez's head and though Antigua netminder Molvin James made a diving save, the US center back pounced on the rebound, putting both the ball and his body in the net in the process. The tally was Bocanegra's 13th of his national team career, trying him with Marcelo Balboa for most all-time for a US defender.
The Americans dominated possession after the goal, but squandered chance after chance, often looking to pass the ball into the net. The Benna Boys nearly shocked the crowd in the 38th minute when Dexter Blackstock found himself alone with the ball just inside the 18-yard box, with only a sliding American defender keeping his shot from reaching Tim Howard.
Despite the scare, US made it 2-0 in the 44th minute. After receiving a pass from Michael Bradley, Donovan played a cheeky give-and-go with Dempsey, only to be taken down by a late challenge in the area. Costa Rican referee Hugo Cruz pointed to the spot and Dempsey sent his effort was low and straight down the middle, giving the diving James no chacne.
Though Torres showed well at the left back spot, his night ended after a tough challenge. He was stretchered off and replaced by Oguchi Onyewu in the 57th minute, a change which shifted Bocanegra to the left flank.
Minutes later, Byers, the second-highest scorer during CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifying, made his way into the match and made his presence felt immediately. He beat Onyewu to a ball and got free on the US goal. Though Howard got his right foot to Byers' shot, it found its way past the American goalkeeper and into the net.
Gomez made sure there would be no surprise result though, finishing an ugly sequence in the 71st minute. Donovan drove down the right channel before sending a low cross and Bradley and Gomez thrashed at the ball with neither making clear contact. It squeezed through the defender, however, and the Santos Laguna striker found himself in the right place at the right time to finish into an empty net and secure the result.
The Americans will now play Guatemala in Guatemala City on June 12, while Antigua and Barbuda host Jamaica. The top two finishers in the four-team group advance to the final round of qualifying.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
|Rank||Player||What We Saw|
|1||Herculez Gomez||Persistence paid off in getting the third goal and despite a couple iffy decisions in first half, movement was exceptional, especially on set pieces.|
|2||Carlos Bocanegra||Made an excellent run to the back post to grab the US opener, was solid both at center back and later at left back.|
|3||Peter Byers||Gave the US an almighty scare by scoring with his first touch, tested the US defense throughout the latter stages of the match|