It's been a rough ride for the U.S. leading up to today's Qualifier. The team's past three games have had mixed results - a draw, loss, and 1-0 win. With an injured Landon Donovan and Brek Shea out of the roster, Jurgen Klinsmann had some tough decisions to make regarding the lineup. He didn't change up the roster much; with the exception of the aforementioned players and Jozy Altidore's absence, much of the usual faces were present in today's game.
Though the U.S. started off slow and missed out on creating chances from set pieces, they were able to make use of Eddie Johnson's aerial threat. Out of 14 goals that he scored for the Seattle Sounders in the MLS, 10 were in the air. It was a great move by Klinsmann letting the striker start. His goal came was a perfectly-timed header from a cross by Graham Zusi. However, Klinsmann's team couldn't hold on to their lead for more than five minutes; Antigua equalized with one of several attacks from the right flank. Peter Byers made a speedy run through half of the field and provided Dexter Blackstock with the perfect back-heel pass in front of the net. The U.S. team's central defenders didn't do a good job of marking the players, the ball simply flew past Clarence Goodson, and Tim Howard didn't come off his line. Antigua's Blackstock had another chance soon after, but Howard played more steadily this time. If anything, what Klinsmann's team was able to achieve after conceding was retaking possession. Yet they still lacked those long-range efforts to quicken their build-up, get more chances in, and test the young keeper. Michael Bradley had several chances for the U.S. with a long shot earlier in the game and another off the post after a quick one-two combo. Howard came through, saving a long-range effort. Cherundolo was great on the defense but not so much on his cross on the attack. The official added just one minute of stoppage time, just enough to allow Antigua's Griffith to get another shot at the net. The 20-year-old had quite a presence on the pitch, as did his hair.
Herculez Gomez is generally a very productive player, but today wasn't his best game at all; he couldn't control the ball or finish, and his coordination in general was off. His combinations with Dempsey were completely resultless. Klinsmann should have benched him much earlier in the match, but waited until the 73rd minute instead. An earlier substitution got Jermaine Jones on the pitch for Danny Williams, a poor choice on Klinsmann's part. Jones was already on a yellow from a previous match; getting a second would immediately exclude him from Tuesday's Qualifier against Guatemala. Sure enough, Jones managed to get booked. The commentators aptly described the situation as "a silly yellow" - Jones stuck out his hand in the air and touched the ball. Antigua's Parker had a close call after his great turn in finished in a shot from about 25 yards. It also signfied a shift in the game - Antigua had finally out-shot the U.S. in the second half. The USMNT's set piece taker Zusi was subbed out for the oft-forgotten midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Immediately the Anderlecht player had a right-footed shot that tested Antigua keeper James, who bounced the ball off the pitch in front of him. Byers and Gordon exchanged attempts for their teams. Michael Bradley got in a minor scuffle with Griffith after he was brought down from behind in the box. The referee awarded a corner instead of a penalty, but Bradley got back with a shot on goal anyway. James made two of his best saves in today's match, proving he's clearly not like his English namesake, Calamity James. Klinsmann's team finally did what they set out to do in the last seconds of regulation time. 30-year-old debutante Alan Gordon's deep throw gave Johnson the double, earning the U.S. a much-needed and hard-earned 3 points. Klinsmann should keep the momentum up. We've seen the U.S. succeed against much more difficult teams, nabbing some historic wins earlier this year. If they can beat Italy and Mexico, they can beat a few CONCACAF teams. It's all a matter of practice and good coaching. The USMNT manager, however, is on a bit of a slippery slope reminiscent of a successful businessman who wants to stick to a proven model. If Klinsmann can change up the team's playing style to a more attack-oriented one despite his rather conservative outlook, it'll be worth the risk. Just like his decision to include Eddie Johnson in the lineup, pushing the players to go forward with the ball instead of the usual slow 'standing passes' will work wonders on the pitch.
|Johnson's header, assisted by Zusi. Source: icantfeelmyarms|
2014 World Cup Qualifiers
Friday, October 12, 2012, 7:00PM EST
Antigua & Barbuda vs. USMNT - 1:2 (1:1)
Arena: Sir Vivian Richards Stadium (North Sound, Antigua)
Referee: Neal Brizan (Trinidad)
0:1 Eddie Johnson (Asst. Graham Zusi) (20')
1:1 Dexter Blackstock (Asst. Peter Byers) (25')
1:2 Eddie Johnson (Asst. Alan Gordon) (90')
3:1 shots on goal
no yellows or reds
4:2 shots on goal
1:1 yellows, no reds