Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. Men’s National Team were flirting with disaster and on the brink of settling for a shock draw against Antigua & Barbuda, but Eddie Johnson came through in the clutch to help lift the Americans to victory.
Johnson headed home a 90th-minute winner to give the Americans a hard-fought, 2-1 victory over Antigua & Barbuda in a rainy Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in St. John’s on Friday night.
Playing in his first international match since 2010, Johnson repaid the faith shown in him by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann by delivering a pair of goals that moved the Americans a step closer to the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF qualifying. He buried the game-winner courtesy of a perfect cross from Alan Gordon.
The late goal helped the Americans avoid an embarrassing result, and helped offset an otherwise disappointing night that saw the U.S. struggle mightily to cope with the elements of rain, wind, and a bumpy and narrow field.
Johnson opened the scoring in the 20th minute when he nodded a beautiful cross from Graham Zusi past Antigua & Barbuda goalkeeper Molvin James for his first U.S. goal in more than four years.
The hosts did not take long to respond, as Dexter Blackstock tapped home a cross from Peter Byers in the 25th minute. Byers raced past U.S. centerback Geoff Cameron with ease and then hit a low ball to Blackstock, who pushed past Clarence Goodson before hitting the ball past a helpless Tim Howard.
The Americans, deployed in a 4-1-3-2 formation, pushed once again for the go-ahead goal. But even though they dominated possession, they struggled to create chances and Antigua & Barbuda seemed the team more likely to find the back of the net in another lethargic offensive showing for the Americans.
Michael Bradley nearly found a winner following a corner kick in the 86th minute, but James denied him with a reaction save to tip his header over the crossbar.
The U.S. looked destined to settle for the draw before Gordon chipped a cross to the back-post, where a wide-open Johnson headed it home to bring the Americans a step closer to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. The goal was Johnson’s 10th career tally in World Cup qualifying.
The victory temporarily gaves the Americans sole possession of first place in Group A with 10 points, but Guatemala defeated Jamaica, 2-1, in the other group game on Friday night to pull level with the United States.
The Americans can now secure advancement to the Hexagonal with a win or draw against Guatemala on Tuesday night. They can also move on to the next round with a loss and a Jamaica win over Antigua & Barbuda, so long as Jamaica does not make up the +3 goal difference the U.S. currently has.