It wasn’t the most exciting performance, but last night the United States Men’s National Soccer Team won the first match of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign 3-1 over the islands of Antigua and Barbuda. I’m sure most of you have heard of Antigua before as its one of the most popular Caribbean travel destinations, and Barbuda is a smaller twin-island of Antigua that is home to just over 1,600 people year-round (at the 2011 census). The United States are supposed to roll these smaller countries in just about every sport, and last night was no exception as Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Hercules Gomez all found the back of the net to help the USA finally win again after back-to-back unsatisfying friendly performances falling 4-1 to Brazil and playing Canada to a scoreless draw.
While the score-line indicated a 3-1 win and that’s all that really matters, this match was closer than it appeared. Defender Carlos Bocanegra put the U.S. up early in the match, scoring in just the 8th minute after tapping the ball in the net after the opposing goalkeeper made a diving stop off a Gomez header from a Landon Donovan corner kick. This goal marked Bocanegra’s 13th international goal, tying him with Marcelo Balboa for the most goals scored by an American defender in international competition. Then, just before halftime, Clint Dempsey scored his 26th international goal in the 44th minute, this time from the penalty spot after Landon Donovan was taken down inside the 18 yard box.
The U.S. went into half with that 2-0 lead and seemingly in control of the match, but then in the 65th minute they allowed a goal to Peter Byers making it 2-1. Byers would then have a couple more chances before the U.S. could regain the two goal lead, this time on a strike by Hercules Gomez after his initial strike and another shot from Michael Bradley were both blocked. It’s a good thing that Gomez added the insurance goal because as the game wore on the Americans were not able to dominate possession and seemed to have heavy legs, and though they outshot Antigua 19-7 in the match a performance like last night’s might not get them results against some of the better teams that they will have to face to make into the 2014 World Cup.
I hate to single out a player, especially one that is representing his country and giving full effort, but again last night once again Oguchi Onyewu proved that he really doesn’t belong out on the pitch for this team. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Onyewu looks more like a strong safety in football or a shooting guard in basketball and he does have the athleticism to play those roles. But as a defender on the soccer pitch Onyewu just has not been able to put it all together and it is really frustrating to watch. The goal last night was scored by the man that he was supposed to be marking, and this seems like an ugly trend from what I’ve seen from him over the years. At 30 years old, what you see is what you’re going to get from Gooch, and it is just disappointing that he’s never been able to put it all together and use his size and power to help his club and his country teams.
All in all, even with the underwhelming result last night from the Americans they got the win and that’s all that people will remember months from now. Next up for the United States is Guatemala in another World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night that is unfortunately only on Pay-Per-View thanks to television rights for these qualifiers, but I doubt many would watch anyway with the first game of the NBA Finals that night also.