TAMPA, Florida — Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez all scored to send the United States past Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 in its opening qualifying match for the 2014 World Cup.
The match – played mostly under a steady rain — was the first meeting between the Americans and the “Benna Boys”, who have never advanced this far in World Cup qualifying.
Bocanegra opened the scoring after eight minutes by poking home a corner kick at the back post and Dempsey doubled the advantage from the penalty spot a minute before halftime. Antigua responded through second-half substitute Peter Byers in the 65th minute, but Gomez secured the points with a simple tap-in seven minutes later.
It took just eight minutes for the United States to jump ahead on a stormy night at Raymond James Stadium. Gomez made a near-post run to flick Landon Donovan’s corner kick that required Antigua keeper Molvin James to make a leaping stab to slap it toward the back post.
Bocanegra, who was tying his shoe while Donovan was lining up the corner, curled around to the right post and reacted quickly to pounce on the bounding ball.
Despite the lead, the United States struggled to convert a raft of chances in front of goal and permitted Antigua to gain confidence. Clarence Goodson’s timely block on a Dexter Blackstock effort in the 38th minute came against the run of play, but it diffused one of the few forward forays from the tightly packed visitors.
“It was a tricky game. They were difficult to break down,” U.S. manager Juergen Klinsmann said. “Antigua and Barbuda did a good job of defending. They made if difficult for us to create chances.”
Goodson’s intervention proved critical two minutes before the break as the Americans doubled their lead from the spot. Antigua right back Marvin McCoy’s tackle brought down Donovan on the left side of the penalty area, and Dempsey converted the ensuing penalty with his shot down the middle.
Gomez hit the crossbar in the 58th, but Byers pulled Antigua within a goal two minutes after his introduction in the 62nd.
The chance owed much to Mikele Leigertwood’s run down the left and U.S. substitute Oguchi Oneywu’s suspect positioning as he slid over to cover the pass. Antigua’s career scoring leader deftly slipped into the area and finished calmly to give the visitors a stunning reply.
“They should feel proud,” Antigua coach Tom Curtis said about his players. “They are disappointed they didn’t get closer.
“I’m proud of the players.We competed really well and gave them a scare.”
James, who plays with Antigua Barracuda FC in the American third-division USL PRO league, made several saves to keep Antigua within a goal before Gomez scored the insurance tally in the 72nd minute.
Donovan made a surging run through the right side of the penalty area, laying the ball back before Gomez and Michael Bradley both had chances that were blocked. But the final rebound squirted to Gomez, who finally converted for his second goal in three games.
“He’s a young player,” Curtis said of his 23-year-old goalkeeper. “He really benefited from playing regularly with the Barracudas. He came out tops tonight.”
The loss was the fifth in the last six games for the twin island nation of approximately 80,000.
The Americans next travel to Guatemala City to face “Los Chapines” on Tuesday in their next Group A match while Guyana will return home to face fellow Caribbean side Jamaica at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in North Sound.
“This was a reality check,” Klinsmann said. “We are going to wear everyone down but we need to play faster out of the back.