The United States is on a quest to represent CONCACAF at the 2014 World Cup, and that quest begins tonight. For the U.S., it begins with an unlikely opponent - Antigua & Barbuda. If you don't know a whole lot about A&B, you're not alone, because we don't either. Unfortunately this scouting report won't be as detailed as the reports that Chest provides of D.C. United's MLS opponents, but we'll do our best to get you prepared for tonight's match, and every other World Cup Qualifying match that the USA will face in the coming months.
The USA vs. Antigua & Barbuda match is scheduled for 7:00 PM tonight at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, FL. It will be broadcast on TV on ESPN.
To prepare this report, we're leaning heavily on the work that's already been done by The Shin Guardian. If you're looking for more information on A&B, go there. Seriously. Do it.
Nicknamed the Benna Boys, A&B advanced to the third round of CONCACAF Qualifying by clinching a 5-0-1 record in the previous round, including a 1-0 home victory over group favorite Haiti to move on. The Benna Boys were the highest scoring team in the second round of Qualifying with 28 total goals scored, and boasts two of the five top scorers in the competition so far. Peter Byers is leading CONCACAF with eight goals, while Tamarley Thomas is tied for third with six. Both players recorded a hat trick in a 10-0 win over the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Does it sound so far like Antigua & Barbuda might be a more difficult opponent than many are expecting? Did I scare you just a tiny bit? Keep reading and we'll see if we can change your mind right back.
Without enough knowledge to provide a reasonable prediction on my own, here's the Antigua & Barbuda starting lineup as predicted by The Shin Guardian:
The majority of players on the A&B team play their club soccer for Antigua Barracuda FC, a USL team founded in 2010 for the sole purpose of giving the A&B national team players more time together. That goal has certainly been accomplished, but little else has been accomplished by ABFC on the score sheet. To provide some perspective, the Barricudas currently sit in 10th place (out of 11 teams) in the USL with a 2-6-0 record. Both of their wins came at home, and they've been outscored 7-0 in their two road matches so far this season.
Its basically the full U.S. Men's National Team against a team that sits behind the Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Charlotte Eagles in the USL standings. Its a team that's 10 times better than the Seattle Sounders vs. a team with several starters who would probably be cut from Cal FC.
The A&B squad does have a few players with European experience though, namely Mikele Leigertwood and Dexter Blackstock. Leigertwood is a regular starter in the midfield for the recently-promoted Reading of the EPL. He's noted to be quick in transition, so Michael Bradley and the rest of the Americans in the middle will want to be tidy in possession to avoid counterattacks. European football junkies will remember Leigertwood as the man who scored a so-called £100 Million goal in Reading's 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest to secure a spot in the EPL less than two months ago. Speaking of Nottingham, that's the current club for Blackstock, the 26 year old 6'-2" striker who has scored 69 total goals in various clubs throughout his home country of England. Once a member of the English U-21 National Team, Blackstock has just one cap with A&B and is slowly being worked into the lineup.
Defender Marvin McCoy is also currently playing in England. He's a member of the Wyacombe Wanderers which were just relegated to Football League Two. McCoy is just 23 years old and has started 49 matches for the Wanderers, so he won't be taken aback by the talent and physicality of the American roster.
Outside of those three players with British ties though, the Antigua & Barbuda team have little to get excited (or worried) about. While I wouldn't necessarily recommend looking past A&B to the much more difficult match in Guatemala next week, the U.S. should be able to handle the Benna Boys with relative ease and a lopsided scoreline.