Okay, let’s get the negatives out of the way first: the U.S. won, but should have scored more, and the winning goal was down to a goalkeeping error; after scoring the go-ahead goal, the U.S. let Jamaica back into the game; and Klinsmann’s substitutions weren’t effective, and were possibly counter-productive.
All of that is true, but it doesn’t tell the real story of the game, which is this: the U.S. played one half of excellent soccer and one half of acceptable soccer, and they won a very, very important game.
There’s a lot to discuss before we get to the player ratings, so let’s get to it.
Keys to victory
Tempo. The U.S. played fast and aggressive, both with and without the ball. This is a key of all the best U.S. performances, so it’s remarkable that sometimes they don’t seem to want to push it.
Possession. Well, this one’s obvious, but nevertheless true. The U.S. had 80% possession and 90% pass-completion in the first half, which led to a host of chances, and nothing for Jamaica. Those totals dipped in the second, but the U.S. still had more of the ball than the Jamaicans, which minimized the number of attacks Jamaica was able to mount.
Confidence. From the first whistle, you could sense that the U.S. players felt they were better than Jamaica, and they played like it. Even when Jamaica got back into it, there was never any panic.
It’s a cliché, but the U.S. was unlucky not to win by more goals. On another night, the U.S. would have been up three goals in the first half hour. Dwayne Miller made two very impressive saves (from Cherundolo’s deflected blast and Zusi’s close-range effort), and Danny Williams’ howitzer was mere inches from pinging in off the post. If the U.S. hadn’t won, it wouldn’t have meant much, but the performance was better than the scoreline, and if the U.S. can keeping playing that way, the goals will fly in.
Flexibility is key. Jurgen Klinsmann wants the U.S. to play 4-3-3 at all levels, and he has stuck with it doggedly in his tenure so far as U.S. coach. But he clearly realized something after Friday’s loss: you play the system that suits your players, not the other way around. With no Michael Bradley, 4-3-3 just wasn’t working, so Klinsmann had the sense to change things up, and play to his squad’s strengths.
New boys are making noise. It’s strange to remember that it’s been less than a year since players like Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron have been on the national-team scene, yet they’ve established themselves as first-choice or close to it. Tuesday’s game saw Graham Zusi and Danny Williams announce themselves as the next in line. Zusi, especially, must see more minutes in the future.
The old boys ain’t bad, either. Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo were two of the oldest players on the field, and they both played impeccably. Cherundolo is 33, but plays like he’s ten years younger (physically, that is—mentally, he’s an old pro).
Zusi was the only MLS player in the U.S. starting lineup. The rest play their club ball in Mexico, England, or Europe. That’s neither good nor bad, but it’s interesting to note that, even as the domestic league improves, more and more of the best Americans are playing abroad.
Tim Howard: 7. Had little to do for most of the night, but kept alert and got down well to save a late Rodolph Austin chance. Mr. Reliable.
Fabian Johnson: 7.5. Was really quite good in the first half, both getting forward and defensively. Was less attacking in the second half, but continued to hold down his side of the field.
Carlos Bocanegra: 8. Had a very good game after missing out in Jamaica. The only foot he put wrong was flubbing a volley in the 22nd minute.
Geoff Cameron: 7.5. Very tidy game for him. Never looked troubled, and was very confident on the ball, which he saw a lot of, as Jamaica didn’t challenge our center backs in possession.
Steve Cherundolo: 8.5. His work with Zusi was just excellent. The two of them created multiple scoring opportunities, and Cherundolo’s defensive awareness never wavered in the second half. I wish he were younger, so he could play another ten years.
Danny Williams: 7.5. Looked much more comfortable than in previous appearances, playing in his preferred position. Was immaculate in quashing Jamaican attacks through the center, and was a key cog in the U.S. dominance of possession in the first half. Also looked decent when pushed wide late on.
Jose Torres: 7.5. Like Williams, was a key part in keeping possession in the first half. Also worked very hard to get back defensively. He’d probably have liked to do more going forward, but this was still a comeback performance for him.
Jermaine Jones: 6.5. The least composed of his midfield mates. Too willing to use physicality (i.e. he fouls too much). Still, worked hard without the ball and to maintain possession when the U.S. had it, and had a couple of good one-touch passes going forward.
Graham Zusi: 8. Had a mind-meld working with Cherundolo. Would have been man-of-the-match had he taken his scoring opportunities. Deserves more minutes in the future.
Clint Dempsey: 6. Some of you (many of you?) will say this is too high, as his touch was off in the first half, and he dropped too deep, and little he tried came off, but in the second half, he did a lot of smart things to retain possession and get the ball back, something his compatriots weren’t doing well enough.
Herculez Gomez: 7.5. Personally, I love this guy. He works so hard! Scored the goal, obviously, but was otherwise kind of a nearly-man, getting close to scoring or assisting a few times, but never quite having it come off. Is clearly ahead of Altidore at this point, and deservedly so, regardless of club form.
Brek Shea (for Torres, 67′): 5. The U.S. had already been looking less composed and assured before his entry, but removing Torres exacerbated that. Was indecisive offensively, but played some smart soccer to waste time late.
Maurice Edu (for Zusi, 72′): 6. His fresh legs helped stabilize the U.S. somewhat. Did fairly well without doing anything of note.
Jozy Altidore (for Gomez, 80′): 4. Tried to do too much. Gave the ball away when trying to keep it was paramount. He’s a better player than he’s shown for the U.S. of late; I wish I knew how to get him firing.