Tampa: Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez scored as the United States opened World Cup qualifying with a somewhat shaky 3-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday night.
Bocanegra put the Americans ahead in the eighth minute, tapping the ball into the net after goalkeeper Molvin James made a diving stop on Gomez`s header off Landon Donovan`s corner kick. With his 13th international goal, Bocanegra tied Marcelo Balboa`s record for American defenders.
Dempsey`s 26th goal came on a penalty kick in the 44th minute after Marvin McCoy upended Donovan streaking into the area.
Peter Byers scored in the 65th minute for 105th-ranked Antigua, a nation of about 88,000 that almost could fit its entire population in 65,000-seat Raymond James Stadium. Gomez restored a two-goal lead in the 72th after his initial shot and Michael Bradley`s followup both were blocked.
It was a costly night for the No. 28 Americans, trying to qualify for their seventh straight World Cup. Third-choice left back Jose Torres was stretchered off after injuring his left ankle in the 54th. Bocanegra shifted to the left, and Oguchi Onyewu entered only to overcommit and allow Byers to come in alone on goalkeeper Tim Howard.
After going 6-5-2 in exhibitions since Jurgen Klinsmann replaced Bob Bradley as coach last July, the Americans played their first competitive match since blowing a two-goal lead and losing to Mexico 4-2 in the final of the CONCACAF Gold Cup last June 25.
Terrence Boyd, the 21-year-old son of an American serviceman and a German mother, entered in the 79th minute on a rainy night and now is tied the United States in international competition.
There is little time to recover for the Americans, who play their second qualifier of the semifinal round on Tuesday at Guatemala. Two teams from the group, which also includes Jamaica, advance to next year`s six-nation regional fianls, which will produce three qualifiers for the 2014 tournament in Brazil.
Torres, usually a possession-oriented midfielder, started at left back following injuries to Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo. Klinsmann left himself potentially short at the position by omitting Eric Lichaj from his 23-man training camp roster.
If Johnson can`t return Tuesday from his calf injury, Bocanegra appears likely to start at left back in Guatemala.
Klinsmann started an offense-minded 4-3-3 formation, with Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Bradley in the midfield, and Donovan, Dempsey and Gomez up front.
The U.S. failed to dominate possession and seemed to have heavy legs in the lategoing. While Antigua had few chances in the first half, Dexter Blackstock was in position to test Howard in the 38th minute only to have his shot blocked by center back Clarence Goodson. Antigua`s players grabbed the sides of his head in disbelief.