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June 8, 2012
US opens World Cup Qualifying with 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda

A rare goal by defender Carlos Bocanegra started the U.S. on their way to a 3-1 World Cup Qualifying win over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday.
A rare goal by defender Carlos Bocanegra started the U.S. on their way to a 3-1 World Cup Qualifying win over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
TAMPA—There were no fairy tales written at rainswept Raymond James Stadium on Friday night, where the United States overpowered upstarts Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 to open their CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying campaign.

Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez accounted for U.S. scoring, while Peter Byers came off the bench to spoil goalkeeper Tim Howard’s shutout.

The U.S. took a while to find their footing in the sloppy conditions, but came to dominate possession sooner rather than later, and seized the lead in the seventh minute, off their third corner kick of the young match. Landon Donovan floated the ball in from the left corner to Gomez, who soared up behind a crowd of defenders to get off a solid header. Goalkeeper Molvin James made an outstanding reaction save, but Bocanegra was waiting off the right post to poke home the rebound.

The Americans continued to call the tune as the half progressed, racking up an 11-2 advantage in shots before the intermission, but were thwarted by hard-nosed defending until the 43rd minute, when Donovan dribbled into the box half a step ahead of defender Marvin McCoy, who left his feet and sent the U.S. forward flying. Dempsey took the pk, bending a shot to the left center of the net while James dove the other way.

Ironically, Dempsey’s spot kick evolved from the islanders’ most dangerous attacking foray of the first half. As the U.S. defense hung back, the Benna Boys brought the ball down the right side before finding lone striker Dexter Blackstock at the top of the penalty area. Blackstock took a couple of touches – at least one too many, in fact – allowing Clarence Goodson to recover and block the shot. The towering Goodson also was dangerous on the other end of the field, and was Donovan’s primary target on the team’s numerous corner kicks.

The intermission did little to slow the U.S. juggernaut. They had their 10th and 11th corner kicks within the first seven minutes of the second half, and their first truly golden scoring opportunity seconds later, when an uncovered Donovan brought the ball into the left side of the penalty area. However, the U.S. forward, whose recent hat-trick against Scotland is rapidly fading into memory, remained reluctant to shoot, and his poorly-struck cross was easily cleared.

In the 53rd minute, the U.S. took a potentially costly injury, when Jose Torres, a midfielder slotted in at left back due to injuries to Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo, went down holding his right ankle after trying to take the ball away from Randolph Burton. He was replaced by Oguchi Onyewu, who took Bocanegra’s center back spot and moved the US captain outside. For a time, the switch worked well. Bocanegra even assumed some of Jose Torres’ attacking initiative, taking the ball near the left endline in the 58th minute before cutting it back to Gomez, who cracked a shot off the bar.

However, in the 65th minute, fresh-legged substitute Peter Byers, who had been on the field only three minutes, received the ball at the top left corner of the penalty area, left Onyewu in the dust and dribbled in on unprotected ‘keeper Tim Howard to put AB on the board.

Byers’ goal lit a fire under the U.S. attack, which proceeded to pummel James with shot after shot. In the 70th minute alone, the Benna Boys ‘keeper turned away long shots from Dempsey and Michael Bradley, and came up with back-to-back stops on headers by Onyewu and Gomez. But the U.S. would not be denied, and Gomez was the one who finally restored the Americans’ two-goal advantage. In the 72nd minute, he poked the ball into the empty net after his two previous shots were blocked in rapid succession.

The Benna Boys did not go quietly, and took advantage of the obviously tiring U.S. defense late. Byers got off a wicked long-range blast after an 82nd-minute turnover, forcing Howard to tip the ball over for the first of two AB corner kicks in the space of a minute. But the U.S. held on for the win, and while it might be argued that they should have taken more away from the match in terms of goal differential, it lifts them to the top of Group A pending the outcome of Friday’s later match between Jamaica and Guatemala in Kingston.

The U.S. gets their first real test of qualifying on Tuesday, when they travel to Guatemala City to face Guatemala (10:00 pm ET). That match is available on pay-per-view.

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