Catching minnows

Fairly often in recent decades, the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying format has thrown the United States up against some island nation from the Caribbean in an early round. In the opening qualifiers for the 2014 World Cup, it was the smallest one yet, Antigua. The last two times, this had been relatively smooth sailing, with aggregate victories of 6-2 over Grenada in 2004 and 9-0 over Barbados in 2008. There are three earlier instances of showdowns with Caribbean minnows, rather similar to each other, that were not as smooth. In each case, things looked pretty good on the final scoreboard, but had been quite uncomfortable 45 minutes earlier. These three games totaled 1-0 in favor of the United States in the first half and 12-1 in favor of the U.S. in the second half. There must have been some eloquent American coaches in those halftime locker rooms.

Here are the three games:

1984, vs. Netherlands Antilles
The United States played a home-and-home, total-goals series against the former Dutch colony. In the first leg, on Sept. 29, 1984, on a dirt field in Willemstad, the United States hit the crossbar twice, but that was as close as anybody came to scoring. The second leg was played a week later at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, on artificial turf. At halftime, this one was scoreless, too, and two minutes into the second half, American Dan Canter missed a penalty. Three minutes later, Angelo DiBernardo broke the ice, scoring on a volley from outside the penalty area after a corner kick by Rick Davis. After that, it got easier, with two goals by Ade Coker and one by Erhardt Kapp widening the margin to 4-0 at the end.

1988, vs. Jamaica
Another two-game, total-goals series (against an opponent that was not yet the solid Jamaican team of more recent years) and another scoreless tie in the first leg, which was played in Kingston, Jamaica on July 24, 1988. An hour into the second leg, played the following month in Fenton, Mo., the score was 1-1. If there had been no more scoring, the aggregate would have been a tie and Jamaica would have advanced on away goals (and Paul Caligiuri’s famous goal the next year in Trinidad would never have happened). The insertion of Hugo Perez as a substitute added some spark to the American attack, and in the 68th minute, Perez scored on a penalty to give the United States a 2-1 lead. After further goals by Frank Klopas in the 76th minute, Paul Krumpe in the 78th and Klopas again in the 85th, the 5-1 final score made the game look deceptively like a laugher.

2000, vs. Barbados
The two games against Barbados were part of a double-round-robin group, not a total-goals series, so the 7-0 victory in the first leg didn’t mean much more than if it had been 1-0, and setbacks in the United States’ other games had it struggling in the standings. The last game of the round robin was on Nov. 15, 2000 in Waterford, Barbados, and the United States needed a victory. At halftime, the score was 0-0, and four minutes into the second half, Llewelyn Riley of Barbados hit the crossbar. Fourteen minutes after that, Joe-Max Moore dribbled free at the endline, crossed to Clint Mathis in the goalmouth, and Mathis scored the first of the United States’ four goals. Minutes later, word arrived that Guatemala had taken a 1-0 lead over Costa Rica in a game being played simultaneously. If this game had still been stalemated, that news would have been very upsetting to the Americans, as a tie with Barbados and a Guatemalan win over Costa Rica would have eliminated the United States.

Playing countries that are known more as beach resorts than as soccer powers isn’t always as relaxing as it sounds.

A version of this article first appeared at Roger’s Big Soccer blog on November 18, 2011

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