TAMPA, Fla. – The basic theme from U.S. players and manager Jurgen Klinsmann after Friday’s soggy 3-1 win to open World Cup qualifying: It was far from perfect and needs to get better, but “mission accomplished” just the same.
“We know we have to step it up a lot going into Guatemala, which we’ll do,” Klinsmann said.
All that does sound reasonable enough. Qualifying for a World Cup is a long slog, more marathon than one-game sprint.
Here’s what else I’ll take away from the win over tiny Antigua and Barbuda.
Let’s salute Carlos Bocanegra
Who cares if Carlos Bocanegra, at age 33, it already on the downslope of his pro career? He is so valuable to this team.
Not only is Bocanegra the unquestionable anchor that holds down the U.S. back line (along with co-anchor Steve Cherundolo, I suppose). It was Bocanegra who sneaked around to the back post to get that important, pressure-venting early goal – which the captain himself said just 24 hours earlier would be so critical.
By the way, that was No. 13 for him in a U.S. shirt, and that ties him with Marcelo Balboa for most career goals among American defenders.
Oh, and he can still play left back in an emergency, too. Clearly.
Landon Donovan remains a valuable contributor – but in spurts
Donovan’s signature bursts of “caffeinated Donovan” helped create two goals: the first half penalty kick and Herculez Gomez’s second half goal of persistence. (Gomez had three bites off the apple of opportunity, staying with the play long enough to get the ultimate reward.)
Still, it’s OK to ask why Donovan can’t be a little more assertive a little more often. That is, in matches like this one. Why can’t the uber-Donovan make a few more appearances? With the L.A. Galaxy man, it’s always about motivation and mindset. I guess he had just enough of it Friday.
How many more chances will Oguchi Onyewu get?
At this point, what’s the point? Seriously. He was in for about 10 minutes when he made complete Raymond James hash of a play that reasonably could be expected to be contained. Peter Byers exposed Onyewu’s failing foot speed and his decision making, stepping around the center back to break in alone on Tim Howard and make the margin just one goal in the second half – not a comfortable place for the Americans.
Klinsmann is always positive, always a glass-half-full kind of guy. But surely that has its limits.
Klinsmann says he knows Onyewu is still “catching up,” after a long series of injuries. “We are not expecting everyone to play perfect games. If there is a mistake, it happens.”
Well, sure. But what if these happenings keep happening?
The sharpness must improve in the final third
Klinsmann said at halftime what everyone in U.S. fan nation (and everyone along press row) was saying throughout the first 45: They need to get their shooting shoes on and aim a couple more efforts toward goal. Klinsmann talked to Dempsey about it during the break; the striker pointed out they were trying to shoot more, but that two or three Antiguan bodies habitually in the way was problematic.
“We created enough chances, but then you’ve got to be clinical enough to put them away,” Klinsmann said.
Looking ahead to Tuesday’s Guatemala test
Tuesday’s match will look nothing like this one … well, unless it’s played in a monsoon. Then it might bear a certain resemblance. But not otherwise.
Antigua was committed defensively, and semi-well organized, at least. Mostly, they just got a lot of numbers back, often in a five-man back line look. Guatemala on Tuesday? As Clint Dempsey said afterward: “I doubt they’ll sit back at home.
We have more on this match:
Here, on Terrrence Boyd
Here, on Jose Torres