U.S. can breathe easier after win against Antigua; more thoughts
The U.S. should consider itself lucky after a 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda
Despite the victory, Jurgen Klinsmann has questions to answer with this squad
The MLS deserves credit after its own Eddie Johnson nailed the winning goal
Three thoughts on the U.S.'s 2-1 victory at Antigua and Barbuda in World Cup qualifying on Friday:
U.S. fans can breathe a huge sigh of relief. Just when it seemed like the U.S. was on the verge of a disastrous result that would throw qualification for World Cup '14 into serious doubt, Eddie Johnson scored in the 90th minute, his second goal of the game, to give the U.S. the win and a huge boost toward advancing to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying next year. Johnson's national team career seemed dead after he had gone more than two years without a call-up, but he has resurrected his career this season in Seattle and had an excellent game overall, putting the U.S. ahead on a 20th-minute header and nodding home Alan Gordon's excellent cross on the cusp of injury time for the win. This rain-soaked slog of a victory won't have anyone thinking the U.S. is going to make noise in Brazil, but in the end it's still three points. The result: The U.S. needs only a tie on Tuesday at home against Guatemala to advance to next year's Hexagonal.
Jurgen Klinsmann still has questions to answer. Klinsmann was brought on to take U.S. Soccer to the next level, but the fact is this team has regressed during the German's 14 months in charge. All due respect to Antigua, but let's be honest: The U.S. should beat CONCACAF minnows convincingly, leaving none of the doubts that existed through the final whistle on Friday. Klinsmann's U.S. teams have scored more than one goal in only four of his 19 games in charge, and two of those occasions have come against Antigua. What's more, Klinsmann picked a strange time to teach a lesson by failing to call up the U.S.'s hottest European-based scorer, Jozy Altidore, and one effect of Klinsmann's odd 4-2-4 lineup on Friday (starting Johnson wide?) was the near-invisibility of Clint Dempsey. Klinsmann shouldn't let the three points provide him any sense of security, because frankly he doesn't deserve it at this point. Mexico would have beaten Antigua 5-0.
Let's give MLS some credit. Klinsmann did take an unnecessary risk by not calling up Altidore, but his two surprise forward selections, Johnson and Gordon, did combine on the game's decisive goal. Both players have been having sterling seasons in MLS, Johnson piling up 14 goals for Seattle and Gordon 13 for league-leading San Jose, and they showed commendable poise when the U.S. needed it most. Meanwhile another MLS standout, Kansas City's Graham Zusi, provided the assist on Johnson's first goal and had a few other dangerous passes before tiring in the second half. Raise your hand if you thought three months ago that the U.S.'s critical performers in an important World Cup qualifier would be Eddie Johnson, Alan Gordon and Graham Zusi. Take a bow, MLS.