TAMPA — Tampa Bay area soccer fans eager to witness the U.S. men's first World Cup qualifier in Tampa had to wait an extra 27 minutes and brave a torrential downpour to get their initial look at the team under coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
And despite a few moments of trepidation, most of the announced crowd of 23,971 at Raymond James Stadium left satisfied after the United States' 3-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda.
"At the end of the day, I think the three points is the starting point that we wanted to have," said Klinsmann, in his 11th month on the job.
Any fears the Americans might come out tight in their 2014 World Cup qualifying opener — which started 27 minutes later than its scheduled 7 p.m. kickoff because of lightning — were alleviated when team captain Carlos Bocanegra scored in the eighth minute for a 1-0 lead.
The goal came off a corner kick. Landon Donovan's cross into the box was headed by Herculez Gomez onto the goal. Antigua and Barbuda goalkeeper Molvin James made a diving save to stop Gomez's powerful header, but Bocanegra was lurking on the back post and put the rebound into the back of the net.
With the score, Bocanegra tied Marcelo Balboa for most international goals by a U.S. defender, 13.
"That was the big thing we talked about, trying to get an early goal, if possible, open them up," Bocanegra said. "They made it tough. … We didn't play our best, but for the start of qualifying, we got off on the right foot with the win, which is most important."
A skillful give-and-go between Donovan and Clint Dempsey produced the second U.S. goal right before halftime.
Donovan collected the ball at the midfield stripe and passed ahead to Dempsey, who one-touched a pass forward to Donovan, who was streaking into the box. Donovan was pulled down from behind by Antigua and Barbuda's Marvin McCoy. Dempsey put the resulting penalty kick past James in the 44th minute.
For Dempsey, the goal was the 26th of his international career.
Antigua and Barbuda got on the board in the 65th minute. Second-half Antigua and Barbuda substitute Peter Byers beat Oguchi Onyewu to a pass deep in the U.S. half of the field, dribbled into the box and slotted a right-footed shot past goalie Tim Howard, who tipped the ball but couldn't keep it out.
Onyewu entered the game in the 57th minute for third-choice left back Jose Torres, who was taken off the field after hurting his left ankle on a tackle. The injury was initially called a bruise. Torres was scheduled for an X-ray.
"It's not looking very good for him right now," Klinsmann said.
With the game unexpectedly tight — Antigua is 105th in the FIFA rankings, 77 spots below the United States — Gomez came to the rescue for the Americans. In the 72nd minute he had a shot from close range blocked but beat everybody to the rebound, and with James out of goal, he slipped his shot into the open goal.
"That was a good hustle goal by (Gomez)," Bocanegra said. "He deserved it."
The United States continues qualifying Tuesday against Guatemala in Guatemala City.