On Friday night, the USMNT resumed World Cup qualifying against Jamaica, in Kingston. The team hoped to come away with a point at minimum, but instead left with nothing. They must hope to reverse things in Columbus on Tuesday night, or their chances at qualifying for the World Cup Finals could be in jeopardy.
Clint Dempsey made a surprise start, as did Michael Parkhurst, who came in for Steve Cherundolo, out with a training injury. Carlos Bocanegra was among the subs, with Clay Goodson taking his place. Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson rounded out the defense; Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, and Jermaine Jones made up a defensive-looking midfield; and Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez ran the forward line in front of Dempsey.
The U.S. could not have started better, scoring inside of 36 seconds. Taking the kickoff forward immediately, Maurice Edu made his best contribution of the evening, by slipping a ball to Gomez up the inside right channel. Gomez was challenged strongly, but managed to keep his feet, and the ball, too. His snap shot was saved by the keeper, but it rebounded back to Gomez’s feet, and he put it back in again, only for a retreating defender to get down and block. This time, the ball deflected centrally, where a late-arriving Clint Dempsey calmly slotted the ball home.
The Jamaican fans were stunned, and what had been a raucous crowd was quieted. The U.S. kept control for a time without ever doing very much, and it was becoming clear that, despite the early goal, the U.S. was missing Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. Midfield play was especially disjointed, and the Jamaicans grew into the game somewhat, though without creating any chances of note.
On 24 minutes, a theme of the game would be revealed, as the U.S. midfield, too slow, fouled a Jamaican attacker running with the ball through the center of the U.S. half. Kyle Beckerman, unable to keep up with Rodolph Austin, attempted a tackle but took the man instead of the ball, 25 yards from goal. Austin stepped up to take the free kick, and his shot was low and straight at the wall. Unfortunately, instead of rebounding, the ball merely deflected through the legs of Beckerman, and scooted low to Tim Howard’s left, into the goal.
After the goal, the Jamaicans asserted control of the match, with the U.S. doing a lot of chasing and closing down, but little effective tackling or attacking. There were more fouls than decent chances, and the U.S., when it did have the ball, was careless with it. The half closed with a few half-chances for the U.S., Clint Dempsey having his sliding shot saved after good work from Michael Parkhurst on the right, but the teams finished level at the break.
The second period opened without much change. The Jamaicans continued to dominate possession in the midfield without creating much, and the U.S. did little when it had the ball. Instead, more and more fouls were committed, with the play getting choppy on both sides.
On 58 minutes, Beckerman was pulled in favor of Danny Williams, perhaps in the hope of injecting some pace into the U.S. midfield. In the 62nd, it was Maurice Edu’s turn to make a clumsy lunge on a Jamaican attacker, setting up a free kick on the Jamaican left, some 20 yards from goal. This time, the wall did its job, but Luton Shelton’s free kick was of the highest quality, sailing a hair’s-breadth over the wall and pinging off Howard’s right post and in. It was an excellent goal, but one that did not need to happen.
Jurgen Klinsmann waited another 10 minutes before bringing on Brek Shea and Terrence Boyd for Altidore and Edu. The U.S.’s play improved somewhat as a result, but there was to be no magical comeback. Gomez took it on himself to make things happen, and created a half-chance, chipping the ball over the Jamaican defense to Dempsey, who was whistled for handball as he took the ball down with his arm. A minute later, Shea got the ball to the left endline, and his lofted cross was met by Dempsey, who could only head over under pressure. The game petered out from there with several minutes of extra time resulting in no chances of note for either team.
Look for our full analysis and player ratings on Monday morning, but the initial reaction must center on the U.S. midfield. With little width and not enough creativity in the center, the U.S. couldn’t compete in the middle third, giving the Jamaicans too much of the ball. That possession led, in turn, to cheap fouls too close to the U.S. goal and two set-piece goals. Klinsmann’s substitutions were too little and definitely too late, and one would have to expect a more attacking starting lineup on Tuesday in the return game in Columbus. A win is a must, or the U.S. may face the prospect of unexpected elimination from qualifying if it can’t win out in its final two group games.