When and where: The World Cup qualifier kicks-off in Tampa, Fla, at 7 p.m. ET. Coverage will be on ESPN, with a live stream also availabe, on ESPN3.
Preview: The United States Men's National Team begins its 2014 World Cup qualification when they against host Antigua and Barbuda in Tampa, Fla. on Friday night.
Antigua and Barbuda is ranked No. 105 in the world according to the FIFA World Rankings and 144th according to ESPN's Soccer Power Index. Comparatively, FIFA ranks the U.S. 28th, and ESPN has the Yanks at No. 32.
Antigua & Barbuda has made it to this point after a record of 5-0-1 with a goal differential of plus-23 in its group the second round of CONCACAF qualifying. Haiti, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Curacao were little trouble for the Benna Boys, as they are affectionately called at home, in advancing the qualification round.
Now they face a much tough test in a U.S. team that has only lost once this year. The Americans are heavy favorites to advance to the World Cup in Brazil, with only Mexico offering a legitimate threat.
With a population of approximately 82,000 between them (about one-tenth the population of South Dakota, the 47th most populous U.S. state), neither Antigua nor Barbuda have a huge talent pool to pull from. The small duo of islands has never qualified for a World Cup and their best finish in any tournament was a fourth-place finish.
Most of the Antigua and Barbuda squad is made up of players from Antigua Barracuda FC, a team that is currently 10th out of 11 teams in the American Division of USL-Pro, the third tier of American soccer.
Those that do not play for domestic leagues are sprinkled throughout professional British leagues. With Antigua being a former colony of England, this is not a surprising fact.
Mikele Leigterwood is the lone Antiguan player that is playing for a team in the highest division of its country. Leigterwood is a starting midfielder for Reading FC who just earned a spot in the English Premier League after finishing first in the League Championship.
A league below, 26-year-old forward, Dexter Blackstock scored eight goals in 16 appearances last season for former European Champion Nottingham Forest. Blackstock has rediscovered his form after a serious injury to his knee ligaments in November of 2010 sidelined him for a whole year.
On paper, it certainly looks like the U.S. national team should steamroll Antigua and Barbuda. However, this is the same team that was blown out by Brazil, 4-1 and has lost to both Costa Rica and Ecuador in the last 10 months.
The U.S. team will feature notable names, with Tim Howard in goal, and Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey in the starting lineup. Michael Bradley is coming off an excellent season in Serie A with Chievo Verona.
Jurgen Klinsmann's side may be without two left backs: Edgar Castillo (hamstring) and Fabian Johnson (calf strain). However, Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra should be efficient in central defense against an opponent that is short on firepower.
D: Cherundolo, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Johnson
M: Bradley, Jones; Donovan, Dempsey
F: Torres, Altidore
ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
D: Joseph, Murtagh, Leigertwood, Robinson
M: Dublin, Griffith, Burton, Thomas
F: Thomas, Byers
Prediction: The U.S. is at home and stacked with talent against an opponent that should feel fortunate to have advanced as far as they have. Expect the U.S. to jump out to an early lead and not look back.
Predicted score: U.S. over Antigua and Barbuda, 4-0