Eddie Johnson’s second goal of the game in the 90th minute bailed out a shaky U.S. national team Friday, lifting it to a crucial 2-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda in a World Cup qualifier at the Sir Vivian Richards Cricket Grounds in Antigua.
The U.S. entered the match needing a win and a tie in its final two games in the semifinal round of regional qualifying to assure itself of a spot in next year’s CONCACAF final. The U.S. meets Guatemala on Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., in its final game. Guatemala played Jamaica later Friday in Guatemala City.
Guatemala, Jamaica and the U.S. all entered the weekend atop their four-team groups with seven points each with two matches to play. Antigua & Barbuda has one point.
Johnson, something of a surprise selection by Coach Juergen Klinsmann, put the U.S. on top in the 20th minute, scoring on a header from the top of the six-yard box. But the lead didn’t last long with Dexter Blackstock scoring for Antigua & Barbuda five minutes later.
Twelve of Antigua’s players came off the Antigua Barracuda FC, the last-place team in the third-division USL Pro. One of those is Peter Byers, who set up Blackstock’s goal by blowing by Carlos Bocanegra and the rest of the U.S. defense to the end line, then sending the ball into the box for Blackstock, who had an easy tap-in to even the score.
Playing on an oddly shaped cricket field, the speedy Blackstock proved a handful for the U.S. defense, even after a light rain began falling late in the first half.
The U.S., outplayed most of the night, nearly broke the tie in the 86th minute off a corner kick that midfielder Michael Bradley headed toward the top corner at the far side. But Antigua keeper Molvin James, who played a spectacular game, got a hand on it to make the save.
But James couldn’t stop Johnson in the final minute of regulation time. Called up for the first time since Klinsmann became coach because of his ability to play in the air, Johnson broke alone behind the Antigua defense, then headed a perfectly placed cross from Alan Gordon by the keeper for the game-winner.
Gordon, a Long Beach native who plays for the MLS’s San Jose Earthquakes, was appearing in just his second game for the national team.
The U.S., already missing four players to injury and illness, will be even more short-handed in Guatemala after midfielder Jermaine Jones, playing with one yellow card, earned another for a handball in the 62rd minute, leaving him ineligible for the next match. Jones had come on for Danny Williams just six minutes earlier.