Eddie Johnson scored two goals while putting the United States men’s national team on his shoulders in a key victory over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night.
Johnson, who hadn’t scored a goal for the USMNT since June 15, 2008 versus Barbados, stepped up and made plays when no one around him seemed capable of getting it done. They came in dramatic fashion two on headers from assists by Graham Zusi and Alan Gordon.
The second, game-winning score came in stoppage time after the 90th minute had already passed.
Despite the U.S. controlling possession for 76 percent of play, it was limited to just 17 shots (four of them on goal) in comparison to Antigua’s 14 attempts. That’s a telling sign that the USMNT is still trying to find its identity with several of its star players watching from the sidelines.
Speaking of missing star players, Johnson has been given a larger role due to the injuries that have swept the American side.
Jose Torres, Landon Donovan, Brek Shea, Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo are all injured and missed Friday night’s win. Shea and Donovan have been ruled out completely for the rest of Round 3 of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifier.
If the United States is to overcome Guatemala and ensure their entrance into the fourth and final round of the CONCACAF qualifying group, it’ll need to ride the hot hand of Johnson. Win, lose or draw it’s still looking good for the USMNT.
While it may not score impressive and huge wins to advance from this round, the U.S. will certainly benefit from these games due to the depth it will provide in Round 4 beginning in February 2013.
Getting talented but inexperienced players like Johnson reacquainted with the team and comfortable with the things manager Jürgen Klinsmann is trying to do is vital for the long-term success of the squad.
If not for Johnson right now, though, the U.S. could possibly be talking about failing to advance and missing the World Cup altogether.
Mike Hoag Jr. is a Breaking News Team writer with Bleacher Report and also covers the NFL and the Cleveland Browns for the site.