There are two schools of thought when looking back on the U.S. men's national team's 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda Friday night. In one sense, three points are three points, and the Americans are in great shape to advance to next year's hexagonal, the final round of World Cup qualifying through CONCACAF. On the other hand, they had to eke by the world's 106th-ranked team, failing to muster much in the way of an attack despite an overwhelming possession advantage, en route to a win that was much more hard to come by than most would have imagined. In any event, disaster was averted, and the goal of advancing to the next round is well within reach heading into Tuesday's qualifying-round finale against Guatemala in Kansas City, Kan. Here are the USA player ratings from Friday's match (as always, on a scale of 0-10):
GK, Tim Howard, 5.5 -- Friday was not Howard's most pristine night in goal. It is not that he made any catastrophic mistakes, and he was not to blame for the Antigua goal, as his defense completely let him down, but there was something a little off, evidenced by the casual manner in which he strode off his line to attempt to take a ball off Dexter Blackstock's foot in the first half on a play that seemed a bit more dangerous than it should have been. When called into action, Howard responded, most notably by smothering Randolph Burton's effort from distance late in the first half with a dive to his right. Howard was nearly beaten a handful of times with unassuming shots from range, but fortunately saw them all go wide of the mark.
D, Steve Cherundolo, 5.5 -- On the narrow field and with Antigua rarely in possession in the attacking third, Cherundolo was not called upon on either end very often. Defensively he did fine, with his biggest moment being when he hustled back to sandwich Blackstock along with Clarence Goodson to halt a potential breakway for the Nottingham Forest striker in the first half. In terms of getting forward, Cherundolo did very little, and when he did get involved in the attack, his service was uncharacteristically poor. He turned in a performance that was far from the man-of-the-match-worthy showing he had in Columbus a month ago.
D, Clarence Goodson, 4.5 -- Goodson slipped (or was he pushed just a little bit?) by Blackstock on the Antigua goal and was the last defender to take a piece of the blame pie on what was an overall catastrophic sequence, which allowed the hosts to level the score and place the pressure back on the United States. He nearly made up for it on a couple of set-piece opportunities but could not quite get his timing right to nick a goal back. Goodson was hardly tested aerially in the box considering Antigua and Barbuda's lack of overall attack, and he did recover along with Cherundolo to snuff out that Blackstock chance, but he was not a reliable safety net in the back as per usual.
D, Geoff Cameron, 4.5 -- Cameron's momentum as a sure-footed defender slowed a bit after he let Peter Byers get by him on the end line prior to the cross that set up Blackstock's goal. On a night when Antigua threatened so infrequently, the major blunders tend to stick out more, and ultimately that was the case with Cameron, who was also fortunate that Antigua and Barbuda took its time on a late counterattack with the score still tied, as he was caught forward and lumbered back to ultimately make a saving interception on a pass to his mark that came about five seconds too late.
D, Carlos Bocanegra, 5 -- With Fabian Johnson getting over the flu and Edgar Castillo out with a foot injury, the captain was called upon to slide over to left back, his former position, to start there for the first time under Jurgen Klinsmann. Ironically, Bocanegra last played on the left against Antigua and Barbuda in June after an injury to makeshift defender Jose Torres forced the switch. Friday, Bocanegra had an up-and-down night and was the first defender to blame on the shocking equalizer after he was beaten to the initial ball by Byers, setting up the goal-scoring sequence. The one notable time he was challenged 1-on-1 in the second half, he responded to win a goal kick. Bocanegra offered nothing going forward on the choppy field and will be much better suited to return to central defense, assuming Johnson is healthy enough to play on Tuesday.
M, Graham Zusi, 6 -- Zusi showed why he is the MLS assists leader, setting up Eddie Johnson's first goal with a pinpoint bending ball into the area that the Seattle Sounders forward headed in with relative ease. He should have had a second assist to Johnson in the first half, as he missed a golden chance after a stellar turn-and-cross from the right from Zusi. His set-piece service was a mixed bag, and he was ultimately replaced by Sacha Kljestan with the attack needing a lift late in the game. He will most certainly be amped up to play in front of his home crowd at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday.
M, Daniel Williams, 4.5 -- Williams was the first U.S. player to be subbed off and really lacked the ability to influence the match in any way. He turned the ball over in bad spots and could not really play stopper on the Antigua and Barbuda counterattack. Add Williams to the list of players who performed so well in Columbus against Jamaica only to falter on the awkward cricket grounds in Antigua. Given that Jermaine Jones will be suspended for Tuesday's match against Guatemala, Williams figures to get a shot to redeem himself, barring a change of heart from Klinsmann in which he turns to either Maurice Edu (considered more of a center back for Klinsmann nowadays) or Kyle Beckerman.
M, Michael Bradley, 7 -- Bradley was the focal point for the United States from start to finish, distributing with calmness and poise, always having his head on a swivel and managing to navigate through the choppy surface around the center circle. His return to the center of the park was a welcome one for Klinsmann, who got his field general and most consistent contributor back. After Bradley came close on a couple of shots from distance in the first half, his late, glancing header off a corner kick should have been the game-winning goal if not for a superb one-handed save by Antigua and Barbuda goalkeeper Molvin James. Bradley was fortunate to escape discipline for his outburst after being tackled from behind on a late sequence, and avoiding the yellow card means he is still eligible for Tuesday's match.
M, Eddie Johnson, 7.5 -- Klinsmann's decision to recall Johnson was a bold, yet deserved one, based on Johnson's resurrection for the Sounders this season. Klinsmann's decision to station Johnson as a wide midfielder, though, was quite staggering. Ultimately, on a field that narrow being a "winger" did not really differentiate much from being a wide-drifting forward, and Johnson showed the ability to take defenders on when he got on the ball. Obviously, his biggest contributions were both goals, which he scored using the aerial prowess that Klinsmann was counting on. Johnson should have had a second goal in the first half that likely would have eased all doubts but missed his unmarked header. Nevertheless, he came up huge when it mattered most, heading home the 90th-minute winner to deliver three points and save Klinsmann some harrowing post-game questions.
F, Clint Dempsey, 4 -- Dempsey was shockingly absent and invisible for the majority of the game, failing to register a shot on goal and missing badly with the couple of chances he did register. After regaining his fitness by becoming a regular for Tottenham, one would have figured that Dempsey would have come out with the tenacity and attacking verve to help unlock the Antigua and Barbuda defense, but he just didn't have his A Game Friday. His biggest contributions were on the defensive end, winning headers on Antigua and Barbuda corner kicks and drawing a late foul that helped the USA kill off the game.
F, Herculez Gomez, 3.5 -- By Gomez' rising standards, Friday was a horrendous night. His typical work rate and movement were met with considerably few touches in the first half. On the two chances he had to get in on goal in the second half -- and they were both extremely favorable opportunities -- his first touch let him down quite badly. Given who else is available on the U.S. roster and given Klinsmann's affinity for his work rate, Gomez likely did not cost himself a place in the starting lineup for Tuesday, and he should be extra motivated to play in Kansas City, where he was given a lowball offer by the then-Wizards and nearly had his career come to an end in 2009 before finding success and a second wind in Mexico.
M, Jermaine Jones, 4 -- Jones entered in the 56th minute for Williams, with one main objective: Don't pick up another yellow card. Already sitting on a yellow, Jones failed to meet that modest expectation and finds himself suspended for Tuesday's match, giving Klinsmann one fewer option on a roster already thinned out by injuries. Jones' best contribution was a late ball over the top that found Johnson in the area and nearly set up a goal-scoring chance, but other than that, his 34 minutes were sloppy and undisciplined.
M, Sacha Kljestan, 6 -- Nobody on the USA was forcing the issue in the attack until Kljestan came on and tried to create on his own. He registered the first shot on goal of the second half in the 82nd minute with his dipping effort that seemingly came out of nowhere, and he registered a secondary assist on Johnson's game-winning goal. Put into the game to inject life into the U.S. attack, Kljestan did just that and likely won some brownie points with Klinsmann for his efforts.
F, Alan Gordon, 7 -- Gordon's "Goonies Never Say Die" mantra from the San Jose Earthquakes carried over to the national team, as his perfect ball set the table for Johnson's winner. Gordon has been involved in so many stoppage-time and late-game moments in MLS all season that it can hardly be a shock that he came through Friday night. For all of the flack that Klinsmann received for calling on Gordon instead of Altidore, Terrence Boyd or Chris Wondowloski, his pick ultimately paid off. Overshadowed by the snub stories, for Gordon to not only receive his first cap at age 30 (he'll be 31 on Tuesday) but to come through like he did is a tremendous story.