On Tuesday night, in front of an electric crowd in Columbus, the USMNT righted the ship and beat Jamaica 1–0, to join Jamaica and Guatemala in a three-way tie for joint-top in the qualifying group, on 7 points. With two games left to play in the semifinal round, the U.S. has a little more breathing room, and, while the scoreboard doesn’t show it, this was a much-improved performance, which should restore some of the confidence shaken by the historic defeat a few nights ago.
While there was no goal in the first 40 seconds, the U.S. opened in dominant fashion. Indeed, the first half was marked by an almost-total ownership of the ball by the United States. At the half’s end, possession statistics would show the U.S. had 80 percent to Jamaica’s 20 percent—an almost unheard-of ratio, more often associated with a team like Barcelona or Spain than the U.S.
Much of that had to do with the starting line-up Jurgen Klinsmann sent out, which was even more aggressive than predicted. As expected, Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra returned to the back line, but it was in midfield where Klinsmann really rang the changes. Looking to counter the lack of width and possession from Friday night, Klinsmann switched formation, moving to a four-man midfield of Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones, Jose Torres, and Graham Zusi, with Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez running up top. The result was a complete reversal in fortune. Williams patrolled in front of the back line, calmly tidying up anything that made its way through, Torres was a ball-retention machine, always showing for the ball, then probing, then recycling, and Zusi combined with Cherundolo on the right to form a truly dangerous attacking partnership.
That partnership nearly bore fruit when, in the sixth minute, Zusi drove down the right channel, exchanged a one-two with Cherundolo, beat his man, then put in a shot on goal, only to have it rebound off the bar. It would not be the last time in the half that the U.S. would hit the woodwork, as a Cherundolo shot in the 19th minute—after more good interplay with Zusi—was palmed onto the post by Jamaican keeper Dwayne Miller, and Danny Williams saw his curling, long-range effort hit the upright in the 26th.
The U.S. was in total control and had several other chances, but, because of the Jamaican keeper and the Jamaican crossbar, the teams nevertheless found themselves scoreless at the break.
Jamaica started the second half a bit livelier, and had a couple of half-chances early, but the U.S. was still on top, though without generating the kinds of scoring opportunities it had in the first half. That would change, however, in the 55th minute.
Clint Dempsey, who, of all the U.S. attackers, had not looked particularly sharp, received a lofted pass from Fabian Johnson. After playing the ball wide to Zusi, Dempsey took the return pass and was fouled some 30 yards out from goal by Rodolph Austin, one of the Jamaican heroes from Friday night. Gomez, who’d put in a couple of very good free kicks in the first half, whipped the ball in, and though Miller, the Jamaican keeper, got two hands to the ball, he could only push it into his own net. While the keeper should have done better, the U.S. had their goal.
Unfortunately, going behind only prompted the Jamaicans to up their game, and they began to attack the U.S. much more aggressively. The U.S., at the same time, found it much more difficult to hold onto the ball. Klinsmann’s substitutions will again be a point of contention as, on the hour mark, Brek Shea replaced Jose Torres, and while Shea did fine, the U.S. missed the calm possession that Torres had provided.
As the half wore on, Jamiaca had the better chances. In the 69th minute, a dangerous cross from the Jamaican right wing was headed away by Cherundolo with Jamaica’s Ryan Johnson bearing down on him. In the 80th, Tim Howard, with little to do before then, had to dive to palm away a drive by Austin. Luckily for the U.S., that would be the last, best chance for Jamaica, and the U.S. would hold on for the one-goal victory.
We will have a more in-depth analysis and player ratings tomorrow, but the initial reactions to this game are positive. While the U.S. will be disappointed not to have scored more—in a group so closely contested, goal difference isn’t something to be taken lightly—and though the quality of the performance definitely dropped in the second half, Jurgen Klinsmann should be very pleased. Aside from getting the three points, Williams, Torres, Zusi, and others had very good games. The U.S. also showed mental toughness to rebound from a disheartening loss in such resounding fashion.
Attention turns now to October 12, when the U.S. travels to Guatemala, then hosts Antigua and Barbuda four days later. Qualification is firmly in the U.S.’s hands. It just needs to take care of business.
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Jamaica
Date: Sept. 11, 2012
Competition: 2012 FIFA World Cup Qualifying; Group A
Venue: Columbus Crew Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Weather: 73 degrees, partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
JAM 0 0 0
USA – Herculez Gomez, 55th minute
USA : 1-Tim Howard; 6-Steve Cherundolo, 20-Geoff Cameron, 3-Carlos Bocanegra (capt.), 23-Fabian Johnson; 14-Danny Williams; 19-Graham Zusi (7-Maurice Edu, 72), 13-Jermaine Jones, 16-Jose Torres (11-Brek Shea, 67); 8-Clint Dempsey, 9-Herculez Gomez (17-Jozy Altidore, 80)
Subs not used: 2-Jonathan Spector, 5-Kyle Beckerman, 12-Brad Guzan, 15-Michael Parkhurst, 18-Terrence Boyd
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
JAM : 13-Dwayne Miller; 19-Arian Mariappa, 2-Nyron Nosworthy, 14-Lovel Palmer; 15-Je-Vaughn Watson (20-Tremaine Stewart, 75), 17-Rodolph Austin, 7-Jason Morrison, 6-Jermaine Taylor; 21-Luton Shelton (capt.) (18-Kavin Bryan, 66); 10-Omar Cummings (11-Dane Richards, 76), 9-Ryan Johnson
Subs not used: 1-Duwayne Kerr, 3-Dicoy Williams, 4-Shavar Thomas, 5-Darren Mattocks, 8-Joel Senior, 12-Andrae Williams, 16-O’Brian Woodbine, 22-Ewan Grandison, 23-Jacomeno Barrett
Head coach: Theodore Whitmore
Stats Summary: USA / JAM
Shots: 10 / 3
Shots on Goal: 2 / 1
Saves: 1 / 1
Corner Kicks: 2 / 5
Fouls: 11 / 19
Offside: 2 / 3
JAM – Lovel Palmer (caution) 17th minute
USA – Graham Zusi (caution) 62
Referee: Jose Pineda (HON)
Assistant Referee 1: Oscar Velasquez (HON)
Assistant Referee 2: Melvyn Cruz (HON)
Fourth Official: Raul Castro (HON)