So many times as I’ve watched U.S. Soccer and commented on it on Twitter, I’ve heard detractors say, “So, um, what does this game mean?” It is kind of tough to say when the USMNT is playing a “friendly” that doesn’t have impact on qualification. I mean, I personally never really care, because I love to watch the sport, regardless. That being said, it is a fair point. Unless it is the actual World Cup or the Olympics, what do games really mean? So, I thought I would do a bit of homework to try and bring all the facts together in one place for all those who might need a little context in order to get into the United States’ game tomorrow night against Antigua and Barbuda Friday June 8th at 7 PM in Tampa. 1
The United States will be playing for a chance to be one of 32 teams in the World Cup in 2014. This is their first game of qualifying even though it is the third round in CONCACAF. 2 The United States placed out of the first two rounds. Overall there were 35 teams vying for three spots and now there are three groups (A, B, C) remaining with four teams each. The United States is the top-ranked team in Group A and will face off against Jamaica, Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda.
So the USMNT has Antigua and Barbuda on June 8th, then Guatemala on October 16th and Jamaica on September 11th. 3 points for wins and 1 point for draws. Goals scored are used as tie-breakers. The three winners and runners up from this group will be in a hexagonal tourney to finally decide the three entrants to the World Cup. But wait, there’s more. A fourth team from the hex will get the chance to qualify against the Oceania qualifier in a home and away play-off. USMNT fans will obviously hope to not have to deal with that by winning their group and then being one of the top three teams in the hex.
Regardless of all that, the road to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil kicks off tomorrow night, June 8th 2012 against Antigua and Barbuda. They went 5-1 in the previous round. They beat Curaçao twice, outscored the U.S. Virgin Islands 18-1 over two matches and split with Haiti.
The United States have a new coach in Jurgen Klinsmann, but this is the first meaningful action for his squads since he took over. The U.S. is in a position to get off on the right foot too.
For the U.S., three points against Antigua and Barbuda are an absolute gimme. The Benna Boys are ranked 100th in the world, they play their home matches in a cricket stadium because their soccer stadium was deemed unfit by FIFA and rejected, and their best players are Dexter Blackstock and Mikele Leigertwood, a pair of Englishmen who qualify for Antigua and Barbuda through their grandparents and have not played with the national team this year.
With that said, it should be a fine way to start qualification. Jamaica and Guatemala won’t be cakewalks, but this first game really should be. It is also a good time to get your feet wet with meaningful U.S. soccer as we look ahead to the 2014 World Cup. If you’re scared, just turn it on, jump on twitter and search for #USMNT to see what the chatter is all about. More than likely you’ll have fun.
- Yes, Antigua and Barbuda is is just one soccer team. [back]
- The Confederation of North, Central American, and Caribbean Association of Football – yes, I looked that up. [back]