The population of Antigua and Barbuda is less than the population of Flint, Mich. Imagine if we had to populate our entire national team with players from Flint — Michael Moore would be our attacking mid! Some of Antigua and Barbuda’s more prominent players play in the glamorous lower levels of English soccer (glamorous assuming you find bus rides to Scunthorpe glamorous). I can’t confirm this is the case, but usually national teams from countries as small as A&B have several players who also have day jobs. There has to be at least one A&B player thinking, “I need to mark Clint Dempsey on this corner kick, and if Josh doesn’t stack the lifejackets before he locks up then I’m never going to let him watch the jet-ski stand while I’m away again.”
This is how World Cup qualifying starts when you’re in CONCACAF. It’s a good way to start — lots of room for error. Lot of room for trying out new left backs (Jose Torres will be playing the role previously played by Damarcus Beasley, which was played by Bobby Convey before that). Lots of time for players returning to fitness (Dempsey, Jozy Altidore) to get their legs beneath them. Lots of time to pile up slam-dunk results that will make it difficult to gauge the true state of the national team.
Tonight’s lineup: Howard | Torres, Bocanegra, Goodson, Cherundolo | Edu, Bradley, Jones | Donovan, Dempsey, Gomez. I still think Altidore is our best pure striker (I’m counting Dempsey and Donovan as midfielders), but I’m a lot higher on Herculez Gomez than I used to be. I took some convincing, but I’m sold on the concept of Gomez as an international-caliber striker.
Here’s kickoff from Tampa, where it’s pouring down rain. If puddles form on the field you have to say that’s an advantage for A&B, because their entire country is practically underwater at any given point in time.
2’ — Apparently A&B’s Quentin Griffith walked into the barber shop and said, “Give me the Raggedy Andy”.
4’ — Not sure who’s doing the play-by-play commentary, but whoever it is just told us that Juergen Klinsmann is the son of a baker. Doesn’t that completely change your view of Klinsmann? You know: Bob Bradley’s mom loves to garden . . . we should never have let him go!
8’ — Goal USA! Bocanegra off a set piece. In a bit of foreshadowing, Bocanegra needed to put his shoe back on before the play. I think I heard him say to the equipment manager, “Pick me out a winner, Bobby.”
14’ — Hand it to Antigua & Barbuda: They’re keeping their shape and defending well. We look like we don’t want to be out in the rain.
20’ — Only a few minutes after calling Dempsey “Deuce” (which is like calling Dwayne Johnson “The Rock” — he hasn’t been that for a while now), the play-by-play guy refers to Donovan’s “infamous” goal against Algeria. That goal is only infamous if you’re Slovenian.
27’ — Griffith preps us for the game against Jamaica with a rough, unnecessary, studs-up challenge. And it earns him a yellow.
30’ — The Americans are controlling the game, but I wouldn’t say that they’re dominating. Last cycle, the United States opened by beating the Bahamas, 9-0. That was dominating. There’s a difference between dominating and controlling; in the game against the Bahamas the Americans were Sybil’s mom. In this game, we’re George Constanza’s mom.
33’ — The rain has soaked Herculez Gomez’s hair and given him a look that can only be described as “Gaddafi-esque”.
40’ — Bocanegra is bleeding from the head and needs to get treatment. People complain that soccer players aren’t tough, but it’s the only sport I can think of where your team just plays a man down while you’re trying to stop the bleeding from a massive head wound.
42’ — Penalty kick USA! Donovan and Dempsey combine, and Donovan is taken down in the box. It’ll be Dempsey to take it (I’m slightly surprised, it’s usually Donovan), he steps up and . . . GOAL USA! 2-0. One of my favorite penalty kicks: right down the middle. You don’t know which way the keeper is going to go, but he very rarely just stands still.
Halftime: 2-0 USA. As a fan, all you want from this match is a win and no injuries. Some impressive soccer and a lopsided score line would be nice, but realistically a point and a healthy 11 would be fine.
46’ — A&B has a striker named Dexter Blackstock. Is that not the best pirate name you’ve heard in a long time? It could also be the main character in an English Lit major’s crappy unpublished novel: “Dexter Blackstock was a mild-manner physics professor at Princeton until an unlikely sequence of events pitted him against an international cabal of zombie art thieves.”
52’ — Donovan keeps cutting the ball back across the box instead of shooting. Donovan is in those EA Sports ads — doesn’t he play FIFA 2012? If he did, he would know that sometimes it’s best to just slam the ball at the keeper; sometimes it goes right through him, sometimes you get a corner, sometimes the rebound goes to one of your players. As in FIFA 2012, also in life.
54’ — Uh oh. Torres — who is filling in at left back for Castillo, who is filling in for Johnson, who is filling in for Chandler — is hurt. Klinsmann does pretty much the only thing he can do: He puts Onyewu in the center and slides Bocanegra left.
60’ — The Americans with tons of chances but can’t quite finish. The ball’s been off the crossbar, off the line. We’re just off.
64’ — Oh great: goal Antigua and Barbuda. It’s 2-1. Onyewu with some horrible defending to send the immortal Peter Byers in on goal. Look: I still think we’ll win this game, and probably by a few goals. But this is not impressive.
71’ — Goal USA! 3-1. Gomez pokes it in after a hockey-type scrum in front of the net. We’re not exactly playing the beautiful game tonight, though I’m not complaining about the goal.
80’ — Terrence Boyd comes into the game, and he is now cap-tied to the USA forever. Forever, Terrence. It’s like the mafia or a Catholic marriage — there is no getting out.
85’ — We’re getting highlights of the Mexico match, where Hernandez scored from three yards out. The announcer called it “an atypical Hernandez goal.” He had to mean “a typical Hernandez goal,” right? Hernandez never scores from farther than three yards out.
90’ — USA is trying to find a goal to make the score line look better. If the tying goal is “the equalizer,” then the goal we’re seeking is “the turd polisher.”
FULL TIME: USA 3, Antigua and Barbuda 1. This is the type of score line that people in other countries will look at tomorrow and think “Really?” Especially if you’re in Scotland, who we recently beat 5-1.
Howard: 4.5. Really was only challenged once and couldn’t make the save (though it was a difficult one).
Torres: 3.5. He wasted several moves through poor service. I have serious doubts about his ability to play left back.
Bocanegra: 6.5. Why does Bocanegra score more goals than other defenders? Because he’s willing to sacrifice his body. It’s the same reason why Brian McBride scored more goals than he should have.
Goodson: 6. Solid once again.
Cherundolo: 4.5. Uncharacteristically weak game for The Mayor; he wasn’t very effective going forward and sometimes chose his spots poorly.
Bradley: 5. I think he’s undergone some mental malaise this match and the Canada match. Let’s see if he bounces back against Guatemala.
Edu: 6. His distribution was good, but let’s see how he does against a team that closes down more quickly.
Jones: 6. I like the way he always looks to pass forward as his first option.
Donovan: 6. He created a lot of chances but also wasted a lot of chances.
Dempsey: 6. He looks like he’s playing at about 70 percent speed right now.
Gomez: 6. He didn’t do much, but he always hustles. He moves; he’s not a cherry-picker (though I know the preferred term is “pure finisher”).
Onyewu: 3. When he had knee surgery, did the doctor somehow tweak a tendon that’s connected to a nerve that affects decision-making?
Altidore: 5. Again: I like Gomez. But I hope Altidore starts against Guatemala.
Boyd: 3.5. It couldn’t have helped our chances of committing Timothy Chandler to the USA that the minute Boyd stepped onto the pitch, Klinsmann let out an enormous laugh and disappeared in a puff of red smoke.