To be blunt, the U.S. national team will probably face a stiffer challenge from the weather than from their opponents in their opening match of the 2014 World Cup qualifiers. Antigua & Barbuda has a population small enough to fit inside the venue for the match, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. And when your team primarily plays together in the U.S. third division, you know that there is an uneven playing field. Could the U.S. lose? Anything’s possible, but few U.S. soccer fans are going to be holding their breath on this one.
That said, the U.S. can win on the scoreboard and lose the game. To use a phrase from another sporting world, “this time it counts” and now the national team can put all of the friendlies’ silliness behind them and focus on grinding out results. That starts Friday where a convincing win should set them up for success in this round. I will leave the analysis of the U.S.’s opponent to talented writers like Brian Straus and instead focus on what Jurgen Klinsmann’s team should be thinking. In an uneven match, we need to move the goalposts and what constitutes a successful game because if the following criteria aren’t met, then we can still get three points but set ourselves up for losses down the line.
Here are the goals the U.S. needs to achieve against Antigua & Barbuda:
1. Win: Let’s hope this is the easiest one to meet.
2. Stay healthy: The depth on this team is suspect, as the last two friendlies have revealed. The Canada and Brazil matches exposed how bare the U.S. is right now at striker if the big names like Altidore, Dempsey, and Donovan go down. If the entire starting XI were to have the night off, the U.S. would still probably win, but again we are thinking long term. Losing a key contributor in a blowout like this could be would be a devastating way to potentially grind qualification to a halt. A contributing factor to this could be the morass that the stadium looks like it could be come kick-off.
3. Pitch a shutout or dominate defensively: Either/or of these results would be acceptable, because I can accept the fact that in poor weather fluky things happen. The Benne Boys should not be able to do much against a U.S. backline with a ton of international experience or at the very least a good number of games played in MLS (depending on who starts). After the abuse taken from Brazil and Canada, our defense needs a game to reassert itself.
4. Have a backup striker score a goal: I’d feel a lot more comfortable if during this game Chris Wondolowski or Terrance Boyd scored on a goal scoring opportunity. U.S. fans would feel better about our ability to score against better teams and maybe those two would feel more comfortable knowing that they actually can score in national team duty.
What other goals should the U.S. team have during tomorrow’s match?