Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
For U.S. Men’s National Team fans with long memories, the scenario must sound familiar. An American team heading to the Caribbean for what amounts to a must-win World Cup qualifier, and facing that challenge with a short-handed team.
Yes, that scenario should sound familiar because the U.S. went through it a dozen years ago during qualifying for the 2002 World Cup. Back in 2000, Bruce Arena took a short-handed U.S. team to Barbados needing a victory to secure passage to the Hexagonal round of World Cup qualifying. For 60 scoreless minutes, there looked like that qualification was in real jeopardy, but Clint Mathis opened the floodgates in an eventual 4-0 drubbing of Barbados.
Twelve years later, the U.S. national team faces a tougher opponent, and also the prospect of having two matches remaining instead of one, but the similarities are clear. The Americans need to win tonight (7pm, beIN Sport) or they risk putting themselves in serious jeopardy of not qualifying.
Making that task tougher is the absence of Landon Donovan, Fabian Johnson, Brek Shea and Edgar Castillo, all missing due to injuries. The Americans are still the favorites to leave the island of Antigua with three points, but it certainly isn’t going to be easy:
Antigua & Barbuda is actually not eliminated from qualifying just yet, and could still squeeze through with a pair of wins, but that isn’t likely to keep the home team from bunkering in and looking to catch the U.S. on the counter, or on a set piece. Tonight’s match will be played on a narrow field used more regularly for cricket, and the environment won’t be a friendly one for the U.S. to try and impose a possession style of play.
No, tonight’s match is shaping up to be an ugly battle, one where the midfields will butt heads for 90 minutes in what could be a sloppy swath of grass.
For Klinsmann, the absence of quality wing options will likely force him into trotting out a diamond midfield with natural central midfielders like Graham Zusi and Sacha Kljestan given the task of trying to unlock an Antigua & Barbuda defense expected to keep everybody behind the ball. The return of Michael Bradley should help that cause, but the Americans are still facing the likelihood of finding a scarcity of quality scoring chances against an opponent that will be content to sit in.
Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez could be in for a frustrating night, but both men have made a living on taking advantage of the chances that come their way, and both should be boosted by a midfield that will have plenty of possession.
The U.S. defense will be short-handed, with Michael Parkhurst or Carlos Bocanegra likely to deputize at left back, but a central defense of Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson (or Carlos Bocanegra) should have little to do in the run of play. Set piece defending will be key because it will be one of the few avenues for Antigua & Barbuda to find a goal.
Cameron’s ability to get forward from the back could come in handy and if Antigua & Barbuda is as defensive as expected, Cameron could be a factor in helping breaking down the Antigua & Barbuda defense.
The Americans should find enough chances to break down the home team and secure the three points, but ugly weather conditions could make it that much tougher.
What do you think about tonight’s match? See the Americans securing the victory?
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