On a balmy but clear night, in front of a vuvuzela-filled crowd, the U.S. picked up three big points in their quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup by defeating Jamaica 2 to 1 in Kingston. While the U.S. appeared relatively comfortable for almost the entire match, they were made to work for their win when Jamaica’s 88th-minute goal canceled out Jozy Altidore’s earlier strike. Only a 92nd-minute winner from Brad Evans secured the game.
The U.S. lineup was unchanged from the Germany match, and while Jamaica surely needed the game more than the U.S., it was the Americans who opened better. After only ninety seconds, Michael Bradley, having orchestrated a good sequence of passes outside the Jamaican box, ripped a shot off the post. Just two minutes later, Fabian Johnson cut in from the left side and put in another shot on goal, which Donovan Ricketts did well to catch. Johnson was found frequently in the early going by the U.S., and was dangerous in possession.
As the game continued, the referee allowed several physical challenges. The play wasn’t dirty, but it was more than shoulder-to-shoulder, and many refs would have blown for fouls one way or the other.
Jamaica settled after fifteen minutes or so, and began to gain some possession, putting in their first shot on goal in the 17th, but Tim Howard was awake to it, and parried the ball high and away. By the 20th minute, Jamaica was controlling play, but the U.S. was content to stay compact and allow Jamaica to play in front of them. The U.S. offense wasn’t able to string many passes together, with any promising move breaking down or being called back for offside, but the Americans stayed patient, and waited for an opportunity on the counter-attack.
That opportunity came in the 30th minute. Howard caught a Jamaican cross, and quickly slid the ball straight out to Jermaine Jones, who carried it forward. After crossing midfield, Jones found Graham Zusi high on the right. Zusi seemed well contained, but managed to twist and turn and finally leave his man behind, scooting just far enough past his marker to put in a looping cross. Jozy Altidore, having had little service to that point, nevertheless found a pocket of space between defenders and buried a header from within six yards.
A goal down, Jamaica continued to have the better of the play, but had only one good opportunity in the half. In the 39th minute, a good one-two cut through the U.S. defense, but with only Howard to beat, Rodolph Austin put his shot off the post. The U.S. cleared the ball, and weathered the Jamaican pressure that came after, which built straight to halftime.
The second half began calmer than the first ended, and neither team seemed able to assert themselves offensively. Conversely, neither was troubled defensively.
In the 49th minute, Jamaica had their first shot of the half, from distance, but it went wide. Another followed soon after. The U.S. seemed content to protect their lead, and didn’t have an opportunity of note until the 54th minute, when Altidore nearly bundled a U.S. corner over the line, but slipped while trying the strike, and was blocked.
Jamaica’s pressure began to build. They focused their attack down the U.S. left, trying to get behind DaMarcus Beasley. They were successful on two occasions, but were never able to make anything from the ensuing crosses. In fact, service through the air was a problem for Jamaica all night long, as they failed to take advantage of a handful of free kicks.
The U.S. had a couple of opportunities, but nothing serious materialized. Both teams made substitutions, but the U.S., while not threatening the Jamaican goal, were comfortable, and the game seemed to be heading uneventfully for full time.
That is, until the 88th minute. Zusi, who had been instrumental all night in helping the U.S. maintain possession, fouled a Jamaican player ten yards on the U.S. side of the halfway line. The foul stopped a Jamaican attack, and Zusi picked up a yellow card for his trouble (he misses the next game as a result of yellow card accumulation). Then, for the first and only time all night, the Jamaican delivery was excellent, and Jermaine Beckford, a second half sub, flicked the ball into the U.S. net, unchallenged. On the replay, Beckford appeared offside, but the goal stood.
The mood throughout the U.S. team was one of consternation more than despair, and as extra time approached and the fourth official held up four minutes on the board, the U.S. players upped their tempo.
After a series of Jamaican corner kicks, the U.S. broke up field with Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Beasley, and Zusi trying to manufacture something, eventually earning a corner kick of their own. It was the 92nd minute, and Bradley took it quickly, passing the ball infield instead of serving in a cross. Zusi returned the ball to Bradley, who attacked his man and fed Brad Evans in the box. Evans took a touch, then swiveled and shot on the turn, putting the ball into the far corner, setting off wild celebrations by the U.S. team.
Jamaica tried to rally, but it was clear they didn’t have it in them, and the U.S. handily held the ball to kill the clock until full time. The win is the U.S.’s first in Jamaica during a World Cup Qualifying campaign, and puts the U.S. in a three-way tie at the top of the group standings, along with Costa Rica and Mexico (Mexico has played an additional game), with seven points.
Playing within themselves: This was an intelligent, controlled display by the U.S. With the first-half goal, the U.S. played very conservatively, emphasizing defensive shape over attacking flair, but the sense was that the U.S. had another gear if they needed it. And so it proved.
Immaculate from the back line: Barring a couple of moments when Beasley’s man got behind him, and Rodolph Austin’s first half shot off the post, the U.S. defense held strong, and gave up very few opportunities. Omar Gonzalez looked composed throughout, and had none of the lapses that he’s had of late.
Altidore continues his strong play: Altidore bagged another goal, and worked hard for the team. He was substituted in the 83rd minute, perhaps with an injury. The U.S. must hope his removal was precautionary.
Nobody’s perfect: A win on the road should never be griped about, but the U.S. once again gave up a late lead, which is troubling. What is encouraging is the fortitude displayed by the U.S. in coming back and getting the win anyway.
The U.S. next plays Panama in Seattle, on Tuesday, June 11 (10pm: ESPN, UniMas). Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have found a well-balanced starting eleven at last, but it is unlikely to remain intact in the short term, as Jermaine Jones was subbed after suffering a concussion from knocking heads while making a headed clearance. Geoff Cameron came on in his stead and did well, but Jones has played very well of late, and the U.S. will hope for his speedy recovery. Altidore looked to be holding his hamstring when he was substituted, and an injury to him would be an unfortunate blow for the U.S., were it to hold him out of the game.
Regardless of personnel, playing at home in front of the partisan Seattle crowd, the U.S. needs to turn on a little of the style it showed versus Germany. Playing smart and controlled is all well and good for difficult away games, but at home, the U.S. needs to show what it can do and score some goals.
The U.S. has done very, very well to earn 7 points from its first four Hexagonal Qualifiers, having played three of the four away from home. With two game in the States, the U.S. team has an opportunity now to distance itself from the pack and make its qualifying road more comfortable.