ST. JOHN’S, Antigua — Eddie Johnson rewarded his coach’s faith in him — twice.
In his first game back with the U.S. national team, Johnson scored twice Friday night, including the winning goal in second-half injury time, lifting the United States to the verge of advancing in World Cup qualifying with a nervous 2-1 victory over Antigua and Barbuda.
If the Americans beat Guatemala on Tuesday night in Kansas City, Kan., they will move into the final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The U.S. has 10 points; Guatemala and Jamaica each have seven and were playing each other in a late game in Guatemala.
Johnson connected on headers in the 20th minute and then in the dying moments in his first game for the U.S. team in two years. He was added to the squad by coach Jurgen Klinsmann, ostensibly replacing the disappointing Jozy Altidore, and the move paid off.
“It’s good to be back in the mix,” Johnson said. “Going into this game the coach has a ton of confidence in me to put me wide out on the wing.”
“We have a world class coach who played at the highest level. He knows the game.”
Johnson was on the U.S. roster for the 2006 World Cup under coach Bruce Arena, but was making his first appearance for the national squad since May 2010 against the Czech Republic.
Until his second goal, the Americans struggled, particularly with the wind in their face on the wet cricket pitch at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
The wind picked up in the second half, and the footing remained tricky. Herculez Gomez crashed into goalkeeper Molvin James in the 49th and James needed several moments before he returned to his feet, holding his chest and left shoulder.
Taking advantage of that wind, the Antiguans several times barely missed shots wide. But the best scoring opportunities in the late going were by Sacha Kljestan in the 81st and Michael Bradley in the 86th before Johnson pounced.
Kljestan’s hard right-footed shot was punched away by James, and then he got his hands on Bradley’s header. Soon after, things got rough and ragged, with Bradley challenging several opponents following a hard tackle by George Dublin, who undercut him.
Then Johnson got free in the box and smartly headed Gordon’s cross back to his right past the sprawling James.
The Americans broke through in the 20th minute after controlling much of the early play. Off a corner kick, Graham Zusi took the ball on right wing, fed Bradley and got a return pass as he curled outside the penalty area. Zusi’s left-footed cross was met perfectly by Johnson, who headed the ball down, making it skid off the turf past James.
But Antigua’s speed began to pay off and, as has been their tendency throughout qualifying, the Americans got lax on defense. A quick burst by Peter Byers got him free in the area on right wing and when center back Clarence Goodson fell, Byers tapped the ball to an uncovered Blackstock for the equalizer.
As rain intensified late in the first half, the United States again took charge of possession, but couldn’t connect. Bradley was just off-target with a 25-yard blast in the 40th minute, his shot glancing off the right goalpost. The hosts then challenged Howard with a quick counterattack, but the veteran keeper caught the shot from Byers.
Blackstock shot wide in the final seconds of the half with the Americans off-balance in their end.
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