By Mike Woitalla
In a way, it's not an inviting prospect to face a minnow like Antigua & Barbuda, a country of 82,000 that fails to fill its 10,000-seat stadium for World Cup qualifiers. Not even a soccer stadium, but a reconfigured cricket oval, because soccer doesn't rate as the most popular sport in the twin-island nation.
Antigua & Barbuda has fewer registered soccer players than a small U.S. city. The best the Benna Boys have ever done on the soccer field, besides reaching this stage of World Cup 2014 qualifying, was fourth place in a Caribbean Cup -- back in 1998. The majority of its current roster plays for Antigua Barracuda FC, which finished last in the 11-team USL Pro, the third-tier USA-based league.
So why wouldn’t the USA relish facing a squad ranked 106th in the world? Because the only truly satisfying result would be an emphatic rout. And scoring goals doesn’t come easy for a Jurgen Klinsmann team that had in 18 games scored more than one goal only three times.
The anemic American offense must be particularly frustrating for Klinsmann, once a prolific world-class scorer who now prowls the sidelines as if he’s itching to hit the net himself. On Friday, Klinsmann actually did get his foot on the ball.
This was in the 90th minute. His team had been performing far below the expectations of even the most pessimistic U.S. fans. With a 1-1 scoreline, the USA was slouching toward its most embarrassing World Cup qualifying result since it tied the Netherlands Antilles in 1984.
After an A&B defender kicked the ball out of bounds, Klinsmann pounced and side-footed a pass to Steve Cherundolo so the right back could get the throw-in done swiftly. So he did and Alan Gordon lofted the cross that unmarked Eddie Johnson headed home for a 2-1 win.
Johnson’s two goals and Gordon’s contribution made Klinsmann look a bit better despite the meager win, because they were his surprise additions to the roster. Klinsmann can handle press conferences leading to Tuesday’s game against Guatemala without having to defend leaving Jozy Altidore off the roster.
And while others may criticize Klinsmann for subbing in Jermaine Jones in the 56th minute -- because he predictably got the yellow card that leaves him suspended for the Guatemala game -- I’m not lamenting that.
Building his team around the American-German hatchet man has been the most disturbing aspect of the Klinsmann era. And at least on Tuesday he's forced to take a different course.