The US defeated Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 Friday night in Tampa but frustrated many with their performance.
For starters, no one was planning for Antigua to score but they through Peter Byers who scored on his first possession in the 62nd minute to make it 2-1 US. Herculez Gomez scored nine minutes later to make it 3-1. Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey scored for the US in the first half.
US Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann made a rather interesting and somewhat successful decision to field Jose Francisco Torres as a left back instead of a more traditional defender. Torres was able to provide width down the left side for the US going forward. His inexperience defending was shown in the challenge that injured him in the second half as he left his ankles exposed. (Torres tweeted later that he is okay)
Klinsmann also reprised the midfield trio of Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley, and Maurice Edu but it did not have the same success as it did against Scotland. The center of the park was clogged and the heavy pitch affected their passes. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were effective whenever they played direct one-twos and ran at the A&B defense. However Donovan passed up far too many shots in and around the area.
Herculez Gomez has gone from “former US national team player” to its top striker...for now at least. He is good in the air, works hard, and is a solid finisher. With Jozy Altidore’s late arrival into camp hindering his playing time, it is good to see Gomez step up and seize the opportunity that has long eluded him.
But while Gomez has gone from the wilderness to the top of the depth charts, Oguchi Onyewu may be going the other way. He was a deer in headlights when facing Brazil and his poor defensive decision led to Antigua’s only goal.
As illustrated in the screen shot, he is the last defender on the right side and also 25 yards away from goal when he chooses to engage Peter Byers. The challenge itself is half hearted as he tries to just use his legs to block Byers off. He skips through and is able to walk in on Tim Howard who may have conceded too much on the near post but he is not to blame. The decision to make the challenge is also foolish because if he commits the foul then he is getting a yellow for a professional foul. [As mentioned in the preview, yellow cards and injuries must be avoided early on.] Also if Onyewu is not successful, there is no one to stop Byers.
Carlos Bocanegra, playing left back for the injured Torres, is covering the far post; and Clarence Goodson and Steve Cherundolo are behind the play as a result of Mikele Leigertwood’s pass to Byers in the build up to the goal.
Oguchi Onyewu’s decline in the mental and physical aspects of defending has become heartbreakingly apparent. Whether or not this is permanent remains to be seen as Onyewu did suffer a late season injury with Sporting Lisbon. But with Onyewu out of form, Timothy Chandler non-committal towards the national team, and Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo injured, the United States defense has a makeshift look to it. Most teams can manage but what makes the issue more pertinent for Jurgen Klinsmann is that he likes to build play out of the back. In order to do this, continuity is a must. In order to defend as a unit, continuity is a must as well. The implementations of Tim Ream, Clarence Goodson, Geoff Cameron, et al. into center back means that no one secured the starting job and as a result they are not fully in sync with the other established starters.
The result tonight and the performance were not particularly pleasing but the team continues to have the appearance of a work in progress. The issue is, works in progress can get torn apart under adverse conditions. Adverse conditions like Central America Tuesday night.
Group A standings Round 1 of 6 Completed Top 2 teams advance (Maybe you can make something out of that for a graphic)
TEAM W L T GF GA GD
USA 1 0 0 3 1 2
Jamaica 1 0 0 2 1 1
Guatemala 0 1 0 1 2 -1
Antigua 0 1 0 1 3 -2
ONE GOAL CONTRIBUTOR