The US defeated Jamaica, 1–0 on Friday night, giving the second game of the Bruce Arena 2.0 Era a finer sheen than the first. It wasn’t a superlative performance, but the goal was a beaut’ and the coach will hope to have learned what he needed to from the camp and games he’s had before World Cup Qualifying games resume in March.
The US fielded an almost completely new 11 from the one that drew with Serbia on Friday, with just Steve Birnbaum and Graham Zusi retaining their placees. Zusi captained the side. Walker Zimmerman and Jorge Villafana joined them in back, ahead of Luis Robles. Chris Pontius got a start on the right wing of a 4-1-3-2, alongside Benny Feilhaber and Sebastian Lletget. Juan Agudelo and Jordan Morris ran up top, while for the first time in my memory Michael Bradley was available but did not start. Dax McCarty took his place.
The game was energetic, as one would expect between these two teams, but neither side produced much in the way of scoring chances. The US controlled possession, with Feilhaber’s quick feet and dead ball service causing problems, while Lleget’s speed and trickery down the left dangerous, too. McCarty was quietly on his game, managing the defensive work while still managing to get his head to corner kicks.
But nothing came of anything. Both sides had half- or quarter-chances, but no shots on goal to speak of. Morris had one shot saved by Andre Blake coming off his line, but that was really it.
The second half started in much the same vein as the first, with little happening for either side. But then, just as it seemed the game might drift away into nothingness, the US scored, nearly out of nothing. In the 59th, a straight ball up the gut from McCarty found the feet of Feilhaber outside the 18. He backheeled the ball deftly to Morris a yard to the right, and Morris returned it. Feilhaber took a touch then played Morris into space inside the box. Morris took a touch and finished below the diving keeper (just FYI: it was not Andre Blake; he’d been subbed at the half).
The cavalry of substitutions entered after that, clearly planned before the goal, with Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, and Brad Evans entering in quick succession. Soon, a good cross from the left found Pontius’s head and drew a save out of Blake, and it seemed the US might up the tempo and actually try to put the game to bed.
That didn’t happen, though I did feel like going to bed long before the final whistle.
Well, I gave the last game a C+, and this was better, so B-? The US scored a goal, but it still doesn’t feel like things are clicking. The missing European pieces were definitely missed, and there were some good bits and pieces, like Feihaber and Lletget’s first half, and the goal itself was actually quite wonderful, but so far, the Bruce Arena show hasn’t hit anything like it’s stride.
The US will be better in March. With the full squad available, the team will be better. With this camp’s performances to review, Arena will have a better idea about what he has.
That’s what we’re going to have to hope, because these two games gave us little to go on. If anything, it gave the Arena boo-birds and Klinsmann apologists ammunition. Outside the lovely moment of the goal, there was never a sense that the US was intentionally building toward anything much, and that has to change. While the US doesn’t need to suddenly transform into Germany or Barcelona to succeed, it does need to execute a plan, and it isn’t doing that yet.
That said, the pitch was a shambles, and Jamaica is a team full of real athletes that can disrupt good plans, and they were definitely up for it tonight.
Onward to the Hex.