Know Thy Enemy: Antigua and Barbuda

Posted: October 7, 2012 in KTE Report

Well, people – it’s go time.

The USMNT will travel to Antigua and Barbuda to take on the Benna Boyz on October 12, in their penultimate match of the third round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup Qualifying.  Although the USA could hypothetically advance to the “hexagonal” (and final) round of qualifying with two losses, anything less than 4 points will make the team’s chances of going through entirely dependent on other match results – not a good position to be in.  With October 16th’s matchup against Guatemala slated to be the more difficult of the two matches, Friday’s fixture with Antigua is about as “must-win” as a game can be while not actually being a “must-win”.

That's Funny!

May 2012. When told that their return leg match against Antigua would be an almost-must-win, Steve and Landon responded accordingly. Not so funny now, guys.

In my previous piece on Antigua, I characterized them as “a stepping stone” and as a prime example of what it means to be a “CONCACAF minnow”.  And I stand by those words: a full-strength USMNT should be able to easily handle the 106th ranked twin-island nation of 81,000.  But if anything can be said about CONCACAF, it’s that no win comes easily, especially on the road (unless you’re Mexico, apparently – but let’s not go there right now).  The USA will have to come out swinging to get the best result possible, and Jurgen Klinsmann knows it.  Buckle up, USMNT fans  – it may be a bumpy ride, and probably a bumpy cricket ground the team will be playing on.  Hopefully just the latter.

As for Antigua – this game is, in every sense of the word, a must-win.  Sitting on just 1 point with a -5 goal differential, the Benna Boyz need two wins and a hefty amount of goals over the next two matches to make advancement to the hex at all possible.  These dire prospects haven’t curbed Antigua’s enthusiasm, however.  The Antiguan FA Secretary recently said that, barring any injuries, Antigua’s squad facing the USA on Friday will be “probably our strongest team we are going to put on the field ever”.  He also noted that the USMNT “doesn’t play well away in smaller territories”.  The Benna Boyz even have their own theme song to pump up their fans – see video below.  Yes, Antigua is brimming with confidence – though to be fair, this seems to be a consistent, if entirely inaccurate, theme, with Antigua’s manager “promising a win” ahead of last June’s USA/Antigua tilt.

What most USMNT fans will remember about the Yanks’ previous victory against Antigua is probably the unimpressive scoreline: 3-1, good guys.  Many were hoping for a more impressive, awe-inspiring statement in Klinsi’s first competitive match, including myself.  Fans with more astute memories will also remember that this was the game where Jose Torres started at left back, due to injuries to both Fabian “Fab” Johnson and Edgar Castillo.  That’s right, Jose Torres.  And he didn’t even go the full 90 minutes – he was subbed off with an injury early in the second half, with Carlos Bocanegra sliding out to the left and Oguchi Onyewu subbing in to the middle.  I’m not trying to make excuses – the USA should have won that match by a higher margin, or at least in a more domineering fashion – but some expected adjustments to the USA backline (Fab Johnson returning to left back; Goodson off in favor of Geoff Cameron; Onyewu likely not even called into camp) should help on Friday.  You can relive the “El Gringo at LB” experiment with the highlights below.

Antigua’s national team roster is primarily composed of players from the USL’s Antigua Barracuda FC.  I guess this makes Antigua like Spain, and Antigua Barracuda FC like Barcelona – except neither Antigua nor Antigua Barracuda FC ever win anything.  Still, there’s an interesting cohesiveness in the Antiguan squad in this respect – even more so considering that Englishman Tom Curtis coaches both the Benna Boyz and the Barracudas.  Antigua also bears a resemblance to the USA in that their FA dedicates considerable time and effort to tracking down foreign-born footballers of Antiguan descent to incorporate into their squad.  As a result, rounding out Antigua’s likely roster will be several players plying their trade in England, including Mikele Leigertwood, who plays with Reading FC in the Premiere League.

With that – feel free to peruse my previous post on Antigua from last June.  Until next time – let’s get those 6 points, and GO USA!


[Blast from the past!  The below post was written before the June WCQ v Antigua.  Enjoy.]

The road to Brazil 2014 begins with a stepping stone.

Caribbean Map

Fine, “stepping stone” isn’t a fair term to use. Antigua and Barbuda are so small, they’re better characterized as “stepping pebbles”. Test your “Where’s Waldo?” skills and try to pick them out on this map!

On June 8, the USA kicks off 2014 World Cup qualifying by taking on twin island-nation Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, Florida.  The phrase “CONCACAF minnows” is thrown around a lot in US Soccer circles.  No team better illustrates the meaning of this phrase than Antigua.  As you work your way down through international tournaments, from “prestigious” to “pitiful”, one thing remains constant: Antigua ain’t playing.  The World Cup?  They’ve never qualified.  The CONCACAF Gold Cup?  Never qualified.  The Caribbean Cup?  Typically don’t qualify.  To be fair, they have qualified for the 2012 Caribbean Cup.  To be even more fair, they’re the host nation, so that doesn’t really say much.

Now, Antigua may not be an international powerhouse (like, ahem, the USA), but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of winning.  Antigua enters this third round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying after finishing first in their second-round group, with a 5-0-1 record, and a ridiculous +23 goal differential.  However, this may end up hurting, rather than helping, Antigua against the USA.  Part of the reason they finished with such a high goal differential was their 10-0 rout of the US Virgin Islands – which happens to be an American territory.  Why does that matter?  Well, let’s just say Jermaine Jones doesn’t always take kindly to people who mess with America.

Jermaine Jones tackle

This is what Jermaine Jones did to Neymar for scoring one goal on the USA. Imagine what he’ll do to Antigua for scoring 10 goals on a US territory!

A few last random factoids before moving on to my standard breakdown.  To start: most of Antigua’s players ply their trade with Antigua Barbuda FC, in American soccer’s third division (USL Pro), though a handful play in England.  Most of Antigua doesn’t care about their national team, since the unbearable “sport” of cricket is immensely popular there.  Finally, and perhaps reflecting the previous factoid, the Antiguan national team’s logo appears to be two deer humping a basketball with (American) football laces stitched on it.  I’m speechless.

Antigua logo

A fresh take on a classic phrase. The Antiguan football team – stuck between a deer and, um, another deer.

Here’s the breakdown:

Statistics sez: There have been no previous matches between USA and “The Benna Boys”.  What, never heard of Antigua’s national team being called “The Benna Boys”?  Don’t worry, nobody has.  Nobody even knew Antigua had a national team.  I didn’t know until I wrote that last sentence.  Anyways, even without prior historical results, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Antigua will leave their first encounter with the USA wishing it had never happened.

What I’m eating: Antigua’s national dish is “fungie“, which is essentially fried cornmeal, similar to fried polenta.  Sounds tasty.  But America takes the elegant simplicity of fried carbohydrate to a whole new level that Antigua can’t even begin to compete with, with good ol’ Krispy Kreme donuts.  Thus, look for me on Friday to be stuffing my face with donuts like the USMNT will be stuffing Antigua’s net full of goals.

What I’m drinking: Back in college, I decided to spend a semester studying abroad on the Caribbean island nation of Barbados.  I don’t remember much about the experience, but I do remember two things.  One, I remember that I met my lovely fiancee there (thank you, Barbados!).  Two, Barbados (like many Caribbean nations) makes a fantastic rum, or at least rum that tastes fantastic by the third drink – Mount Gay rum.  Antigua has their own rum, called “English Harbour” – clearly a jab at America, using the pretentious and stupid English spelling of the word “harbor”.  While I usually opt for an American version of opponents’ beverages, the slogan of Barbados’ Mount Gay rum is “the rum that invented rum” – a slogan that oozes superiority.  Thus, for one game only, I’ll be abandoning my traditions and returning to my Bajan roots, enjoying a rum punch made with Barbados’ finest while simultaneously enjoying the USA making Antigua look downright silly.

Mount Gay

Take your rum back to England, Antigua. Mount Gay invented you and you know it.

What I’m singing: “Allen Stanford”, sung to the tune of “Yankee Doodle”.

A bit of background first.  Back in the 1980’s, an American businessman named Allen Stanford moved to Antigua.  He started a bank there, offering investors returns that consistently exceeded the market rate.  People in Antigua loved him – so much, in fact, that he was knighted by the Governor-General of Antigua in 2006.  Unfortunately, it turns out “Sir Allen” as actually running a $8 billion ponzi scheme, rather than a real bank.  Oops.  Antigua revoked his knighthood in 2010, but it was too late to prevent me from laughing at the whole story.

After a few rum punches, you may hear me sing this song inspired by this historical tidbit:

Allen Stanford was a Yank who moved off to Antigua
Started up a bank, too bad it was a Ponzi scheme
Yes, we’ve screwed Antigua once
Tonight, we’ll do you one worse
Make you wish we’d never met, like we were Allen Stanford

What to say to the Antigua and Barbuda fan when, God forbid, they score: “I genuinely did not think that would happen.”

Until next time…go USA!


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