USMNT vs. Antigua: 7 Bold Predictions for World Cup 2014 Qualifying Opener
The U.S. and Jurgen Klinsmann officially begin their World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday at 7 p.m. against CONCACAF opponents Antigua and Barbuda.
As far as my research can tell, this is the first time the two opponents have ever met (going back to 1972 when Antigua first began playing internationals.)
If I wasn't obsessed with Sporcle's "Countries of the World," I have to admit I wouldn't even know Antigua and Barbuda, but they're certainly no pushovers.
So while on the surface it looks like an easy win for the United States, as any USMNT fan can tell you, just when things look predictably easy and comfortable, they're suddenly not.
And following a disappointing 0-0 draw against Canada, American goal-scoring is not exactly flying as high as they were when Landon Donovan and company carved up Scotland, 5-1.
So, without further ado, here are some bold predictions for what might be the first step in another successful World Cup qualifying campaign.
An Outside Back Will Be Man of the Match
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Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo have had flashes where they've looked like the best players on the field in the last few friendlies.
Granted, Johnson has looked a good deal better than Castillo, but both have played well for periods of time.
Whether it was Johnson's marauding runs against Scotland and Brazil (where he set up the U.S.'s only goal against the South American superpower) or Castillo's near goal of the week against Canada, outside backs have suddenly sprung to life.
So long a point of weakness, this position is now rapidly becoming a source of strength. This will continue into the qualifying.
A U.S. Player Not Named Jermaine Jones Will Get a Red Card
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CONCACAF qualifying games can be extremely contentious. Normally this only translates to an American red card if it's an away game.
Yet with frustration possibly growing following only one goal in the last 180 minutes of play, and Jurgen Klinsmann's possibly dangerous call to his team to be "more nastier" (an open-ended declaration), this could mean an American gets shown the door.
Normally, it would probably fall on default U.S. hot head Jermaine Jones to get the customary quick exit, but I think it'll be someone else.
Dempsey, maybe? Or possibly Michael Bradley? We will see.
Terrence Boyd Will Open His Account for Team USA
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Terrence Boyd is yet another German-born American. And though he only plays for Borussia Dortmund's reserve team, he's been a prolific scorer.
His size (6'2") and strength are qualities not necessarily unique to the American team. Still, at only 21 years of age, he's likely to be a great asset to the national team for years to come.
I think that he has a great chance to open his account for the U.S. team against Antigua if he manages to get some time in the game.
Tim Howard Will Save a Penalty
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Tim Howard is one of the best goalies in the world. Frankly, I don't care if people think that's me being biased: it's a fact.
Ask Everton fans. Just last fall, he became the first Everton goalie in over a hundred years to make a penalty save in a Liverpool derby game.
And he will be tested against Antigua. At some point, rash American central defenders will make a clumsy challenge that will result in a penalty kick.
Tim will save it.
(Not sure if this says more about my confidence in Howard or about my lack of confidence in whoever is playing center back.)
Alexi Lalas Will Criticize the U.S. at Least Five Times Durng the Broadcast
Okay, okay, I know this has nothing to do with the game itself, but as fans we experience the game and the broadcast as a whole.
And Lalas has made himself a fixture in ESPN's coverage.
I honestly like him being on the coverage, but sometimes the guy can be relentless. I could start a drinking game for every time he calls out the national team.
My feeling for this game is that he gets pretty wound up at the team's ability to keep it frustratingly close.
Jurgen Klinsmann Will Celebrate Like He Just Scored After the U.S. Scores
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Okay, this is kind of a joke, since Jurgen generally always celebrates like he was the one who scored.
Still, it's one of my favorite things about him, so I had to throw this in here.
Enough joking around; on to my most bold prediction...
The Game Will Be Decided One Way or the Other by One Goal
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The U.S. has a propensity for doing one of two things in games against teams similar to Antigua and Barbuda.
Either they win 10-0, or it's a one-goal game.
Considering that many of the USA squad play in Europe and are at the end of a long season, and that they've been going hard with the national team for a few weeks now, I think it will be a one-goal game.
Obviously, I have full confidence that in the end the U.S. will be on the right side of the one-goal margin, but they'll have to sweat it.