TAMPA, Fla. — The United States is off to a successful, though far from perfect start in qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez scored and the Americans held off Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 Friday night in a match that wound up being a lot closer than the U.S. had hoped.
Antigua is ranked 105th in the FIFA rankings, 77 spots below the U.S.
“The guys know they can step it up and they will step it up,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said.
While the Americans didn’t play nearly as well as they’re capable of, Klinsmann insisted his team did not take the opposition lightly.
“There’s not the expectation just to kind of overrun Antigua or whatever country maybe that looks kind of weak on a piece of paper. They came here. They played the game — not of their life, but for them it’s big time. They gave everything they had,” Klinsmann said. “It’s important the players understand what they did OK and what was not so OK. They’re going to hear that from me.”
Bocanegra put the Americans ahead in the eighth minute, tapping the ball into the net after goalkeeper Molvin James made a diving stop but spilled Gomez’s header off Landon Donovan’s corner kick. With his 13th international goal, Bocanegra tied Marcelo Balboa’s record for American defenders.
Dempsey’s 26th international goal came on a penalty kick in the 44th minute after Marvin McCoy upended Donovan streaking into the area.
Peter Byers scored in the 65th minute for Antigua, a nation of about 88,000 that almost could fit its entire population in 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium. Gomez restored a two-goal lead in the 72th after his initial shot and Michael Bradley’s followup both were blocked.
Antigua coach Tom Curtis said his team proved it belongs.
“It’s a testament to how far (we’ve come) that we’re probably feeling a little disappointed with the result,” Curtis said. “I said to the players afterward, they should feel proud of themselves in terms of performance, but to be honest, we’re a little bit disappointed that we didn’t get even closer. If you had told me that two years ago that little Antigua would get that close to the United States and the players still be disappointed, I would have told you you were mad. We could have done things a little better, but we got close and gave them a fright.”