The USMNT defeated Antigua and Barbuda by a 3-1 score earlier this evening to begin the semifinal round of World Cup Qualifying. Along with the US and A&B, Jamaica and Guatemala make up Group A. The top two teams in each of three groups will qualify for the final round of WCQ. Teams will each play each other twice, once on the road and once at home, and the two teams with the most points (three for a win, one for a draw) will advance.
Despite the victory, tonight's match did not leave me with a great taste in my mouth. The US started off well, with a Carlos Bocanegra header putting them on the board early. A late first-half penalty kick by Clint Dempsey gave the boys a 2-0 lead and things looked fairly comfortable. A&B kept it recently close despite giving up more than a dozen corner kicks and they capitalized on a poor play by substitute centerback Oguchi Onyewu to make it a game. Herculez Gomez closed out the scoring with what can only be called an "effort goal," as he and Michael Bradley fought through the packed in defense to get the ball in a spot for Gomez to tap the ball into the open net.
My three positive takes from tonight:
1. Herculez Gomez impressed once again
Gomez not only scored the third goal of the night for the US, but he also came very close to tallying goals on two other occasions in the second half. His header was expertly saved by the A&B keeper and his rocket off a nice feed from Landon Donovan smacked the crossbar. Gomez also came back to the midfield area and contributed solid defense throughout the night. He is certainly pushing Jozy Altidore for playing time and will not give up his starting spot easily.
2. Carlos Bocanegra and Clarence Goodson gave solid performances
Goodson was the man of the match in the draw at Canada and Bocanegra was my man of the match tonight. Not only did Bocanegra score the first goal, but he came very close to assisting on a second-half goal and solidified the backfield both as a centerback and then at left back after an ankle injury forced Jose Torres to leave the match. With injuries to Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo, it looks like Bocanegra will have to play left back in Tuesday's qualifier, which will put more pressure on Goodson to hold down the fort in the middle of the defense. Hopefully we have seen the last of Onyewu, as he looks slow and has made some very poor decisions. Look for Geoff Cameron to be paired with Goodson in front of Tim Howard on Tuesday.
3. Terrence Boyd is cap tied
Boyd is a talented 21-year old forward who currently plays for a second division club in Germany and holds dual citizenship in Germany and the US, so coming into tonight's match he was still eligible to play for either country. After tonight's appearance in an official international competition, Boyd can only play for the US - what is known by FIFA rules as "cap tied." Boyd's development will be closely watched, as he should be paired up front with Altidore after the Dempsey/Donovan era ends (which will likely happen after the 2014 World Cup).
Qualifying resumes on Tuesday night, as the US travels to Guatemala in what should be a rather hostile environment.