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Matches in Antigua rarely easy affairs; U.S. fans may wince, but expect a close match tonight

Oct 12, 2012, 11:21 AM EDT

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Friday could be bring a commanding United States win, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann’s and Co. to go bounding into Kansas City for next week’s group play finale needing nothing more than a draw to secure passage into final round World Cup qualifying.

Most American soccer fans would like to see the United States do just that, ride roughshod over the tiny nations of Central American and the Caribbean, establishing regional dominance as more or less a practice exercise en route to bigger and better at the World Cup finals.

But history suggests otherwise. Whether it’s down to an ongoing U.S. failure to capitalize on the enormous advantages in resources, or whether it’s the far more vague province of “is what it is,” these regional lands are rarely pushovers when playing at home.

And that’s not just when playing the United States:

Let’s look quickly at Antigua and Barbuda’s other home games this round:

  • Guatemala did escape Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in September with all three points, but it was awfully close. Carlos Ruiz scored in the 25th minute, and it took a solid night of work from visiting goalkeeper Ricardo Jerez to hold the score to 1-0.
  • Back in June, Jamaica could do no better than a scoreless draw in Antigua. This is where the Antiguan team’s cohesiveness as a group, not just a collection of individuals – most of the regulars play together in the U.S. third-tier league (USL Pro) – greatly assists the effort. They are far more organized than most Caribbean sides, not committing too many players into the attack, remaining in the best places for recovery once the ball is lost, and generally managing the game fairly well. The United States saw as much in only winning by two goals (3-1) earlier this year in Tampa Bay.

So, two matches so far at the cricket ground in Antigua have produced just one goal.

My expectation: a 2-0 United States win. (Followed by a predictable amount of subsequent teeth gnashing that it couldn’t have been more.)

  1. tylerbetts - Oct 12, 2012 at 11:29 AM

    The potential teeth-gnashing for a 2-0 win all depends on how the 2 goal come, I’d think.

    If the US is able to get forward, create chances, and have some bad luck (hit the posts, have a few great saves by the A&B ‘Keeper), I don’t think you’ll see too much gnashing of teeth about a 2-0 win. Think about the 1st half against Jamaica in Columbus. No goals, but the style of play was exactly what we’d been craving, and there was a sense of optimism that if they kept playing that way, they’d win.

    Now, if the US attack is unable to break down A&B, and we really on a couple of unfortunate A&B errors that result in breakaway goals and otherwise we spend the game unable to get the ball into dangerous spots in the attacking third, then we’ll (rightfully) see some gnashing of teeth.

    Oh, and by the way – thinking of it now. How huge is that A&B draw at home against Jamaica for us right now? Can you image the panic mode we’d all be in were Jamaica sitting on 9 points and we were *gasp* in second on the table?

    • Steve Davis - Oct 12, 2012 at 12:06 PM

      Absolutely agree on the last point. … as to the manner of a potential win: I always say it’s a lot like NFL. If you win on the road, you’ve won on the road. We can look for style points in home matches.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 12, 2012 at 5:36 PM

      Indeed, I’ve been thinking about trying to create an index that replaces GD as a more effective way of showing how comprehensive a victory was, and I think 2-0 is one of the prime scorelines that are a good case in point of that, in terms of how much they can vary in lop-sidedness.

      Indicators that could go into such an index:
      * How many minutes did you have a lead–generally, the longer the better.
      * What was the shot balance/possession balance once you were in the lead. (This is because it’s natural, and usually the case, that the team that went down presses a bit more while the team that took the lead steps back a bit.) Generally, I’d argue the team that stays over 50% possession and over 50% of the shots to go from 1-0 to 2-0 had a more comprehensive victory than the one that sits back, waits for a mistake and counters, even when that latter strategy happens to work.

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