U.S.-Antigua Player Ratings
Herculez Gomez took a beating in the match but scored a key insurance goal
Clint Dempsey played as well as he has since returning from a groin injury
Although almost too unselfish, Landon Donovan had his best game since Scotland
The U.S. men's national team opened World Cup qualifying with a 3-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda in rainy conditions in Tampa, Fla., and while the performance was not as dominant as most may have expected, the Americans will take the three points and look forward as the road to Brazil continues. Here are player ratings from the match (as always, based on a scaled of 0-10):
GK, Tim Howard, 6.5 -- Howard had little to do until the defense in front of him lost focus toward the end, and his save to tip Peter Byers' late blast over the bar saved the U.S. men from having to sweat out the final minutes of the match. Howard was rightfully seething at his back line as the match wore on, and did not figure to have as pressure-packed a second half as he did. Got beaten near post by Byers from short range on the Antigua and Barbuda goal, but he was hung out to dry by his defense on the sequence.
D, Jose Torres, 5.5 -- Torres was pressed into left back duty for the first time in his U.S. career, and he did OK before exiting with an ankle injury in the 57th minute. He actually got more forward on the left flank than he ever did as a left midfielder in the last three matches, sending in more crosses and making smart runs into space. He was caught forward and was slow to react on a quick Antigua and Barbuda restart, though, which nearly led to a golden look at goal for the Benna Boyz. His status for Tuesday's match against Guatemala looks highly doubtful, which gives Jurgen Klinsmann plenty to think about if neither Fabian Johnson (calf strain) nor Edgar Castillo (hamstring pull) is fit enough to play.
D, Carlos Bocanegra, 7 -- The captain earned the armband Friday night. His eighth-minute goal put the exclamation point on an early domination of possession, and he was calm and composed in the back. He halted Antigua and Barbuda's top threat, Dexter Blackstock, on a 1-v-1 situation after a bad U.S. giveaway in the first half, and he shifted seamlessly over to left back to replace the injured Torres and play his former position under Klinsmann for the first time. Instead of staying back after the move as some may have expected, Bocanegra got forward extremely well, and he even set up Herculez Gomez for a great look at goal. Easily his most pronounced, memorable match of this recent stretch of games.
D, Clarence Goodson, 6.5 -- Goodson showed why he is the preferred starter next to Bocanegra with another solid effort. His massive sliding block of Blackstock's clear look at the top of the box likely saved a would-be equalizer in the first half, and he was active in the area on set pieces, as usual, though he did not convert on any of his chances. His distribution was sound as well for the most part, as he picked out Torres with a long-range diagonal down the left-hand side with pinpoint accuracy.
D, Steve Cherundolo, 6 -- Cherundolo was hardly challenged in the back at all, and he got forward rather well after a quiet game against Canada. He was beaten to Quinton Griffith's ball down the right flank by Mikele Leigertwood, and the goal followed soon after, but between Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu, that goal never should have happened. On the whole, another professional display from Cherundolo.
M, Maurice Edu, 4.5 -- Another night where the cons outweigh the pros for Edu. He nearly assisted on a goal to Landon Donovan with a lob over the top, but what most will take away from Edu's performance was his bad giveaway that led to Antigua and Barbuda's first chance, his failure to retrieve a lazy backpass that led to Byers' blast that Howard saved and a perceived overall lack of concentration. It is unclear whether Kyle Beckerman would be thrown into the fire as opposed to the battle-tested Edu against Guatemala in Guatemala City, but Edu has been the least effective of the midfield triumvirate in these recent matches.
M, Michael Bradley, 5.5 -- Friday was a steady, but certainly not flashy, night from Bradley, who was not solely stationed in the No. 6 role he has played the last two matches; however, he hardly ventured forward or took many chances in the attack. His short passing in the midfield was accurate, and he had a couple of looks at goal late in the second half that made him more of an attacking threat. Look for a more influential performance from Bradley against Guatemala, where the United States will need a focused field general in a raucous environment.
M, Jermaine Jones, 6 -- Jones put in a workmanlike effort to get forward and was his usual, hard-tackling self but managed to escape the night card-free. His offensive skills continue to improve, evidenced by his perfect diagonal through ball for Donovan, one that could have led to a great chance had Donovan opted to shoot. He showed his savvy by dummying Donovan's cross for Bradley and Herculez Gomez on the sequence leading to the final U.S. goal and had a positive overall influence on the match.
F, Clint Dempsey, 7 -- Dempsey played as well and as active as he has since returning from a groin injury. He converted the penalty that he set up by playing Donovan forward and into the area, and he was lively, inventive and smart in his 90 minutes on the field. In essence, he was the Dempsey that gave Premier League defenders fits for the last 10 months. His combination play with Donovan continues to improve as the two of them rekindle their on-field chemistry, and he finally broke the team's spell of refusing to shoot from outside the area with a look that created more space down the stretch. An encouraging effort for Klinsmann and the U.S. attack as a whole.
F, Herculez Gomez, 7.5 - Gomez got a deserved goal -- and a big insurance goal for the United States at that -- after putting in another tireless shift in which his hard work caused problems for the back line. He took an absolute beating throughout the match, but he was undeterred. His off-ball runs were smart and well-timed, and his night was summed up by the sequence on which he scored, as he didn't give up on the play and was rewarded with a look into an empty net. The more he keeps playing like this, the fewer minutes there will be for the likes of Jozy Altidore, Terrence Boyd or any other U.S. striker.
F, Landon Donovan, 7 -- Donovan had a very influential match, though it appeared that he was almost too unselfish at times to a fault, opting to try and set up the high-percentage shot instead of having a go at goal from a slight angle on a few occasions. His service on the bevy of U.S. set pieces was generally dangerous, and he drew the penalty that Dempsey converted for the second U.S. goal, which came at an important juncture right before halftime with the Americans only having a 1-0 lead at the time. His cerebral moxie was on display with his decision to wait for Bocanegra to get his cleat back on and re-enter the field prior to taking the corner that the captain eventually tucked home for the opening goal. His best game since his hat trick against Scotland.
D, Oguchi Onyewu, 2 -- That might be the last we see of Onyewu for a while. Getting toasted by Brazil is one thing. But the slow, incorrect reaction to jump out on the pass to Byers and then the lack of foot speed to catch him and yield an easy goal spoke volumes of where Onyewu is at competitively. Yes, he was rushed into the game as an injury substitute for Torres, but players have to be counted on to enter and perform at any moment, and Onyewu was unable to do that against an overmatched opponent. Geoff Cameron slides up in the pecking order after Friday night.
F, Jozy Altidore, 5.5 -- Still reduced to a reserve role, Altidore did not get a whole lot of chances to be involved in the action after coming on for the final 10 or so minutes, but he did set Dempsey up with a pinpoint pass for a golden chance from inside the box that was hit over the bar. With Gomez playing as well as he is as a starter, Altidore's potential for contributing going forward appears to be limited.
F, Terrence Boyd, 5 -- Boyd had a couple of wayward touches after coming on with Altidore, but most importantly, his appearance made him cap-tied to the United States. The up-and-coming star -- who had only shown indications of being committed to the country -- is officially going to be a U.S. national team player for the long haul. Given Timmy Chandler's recent indecision and the U.S.-eligible players in the past who have opted to play elsewhere, Boyd's appearance can let U.S. fans take a huge sigh of relief, no matter how committed Boyd had said he was prior to his stepping onto the field in Friday's qualifier.