Jamaica vs. United States: Grading the US in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Loss
So much for making history. The positive kind, at least.
The United States lost, 2-1, to Jamaica on Friday night in a CONCACAF semifinal round World Cup qualifying match in Kingston. It was the first time the U.S. had lost a road match to Jamaica in qualifying after four draws.
Clint Dempsey scored just 36 seconds into the match for the U.S., but Jamaica responded with two free-kick goals to claim a historic victory.
How did the U.S. perform? Read on for post-match grading of the American headline-makers.
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Clint Dempsey hadn't played a competitive match in months, thanks to his long-running summer-transfer saga. That made his inclusion in the starting lineup surprising. Having not played a league match so far this season, Dempsey lacked match sharpness following his protracted transfer to Tottenham Hotspur from Fulham.
Even more surprising, however, was the fact that Dempsey played the full 90 minutes.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann's decision to start Dempsey wasn't a bad one. Dempsey is the best U.S. field player, and putting him in the match early—as opposed, presumably, to a substitute's role—suggested Klinsmann wanted to chase a positive result.
And the (very) early returns were positive, too, with Dempsey putting the U.S. ahead 36 seconds into the match. He had another decent chance late in the half on Michael Parkhurst's cross.
But, predictably, Dempsey faded in the second half. And overall, he failed to exert his normal level of influence on the game throughout.
Perhaps a substitute appearance, or even 60 minutes as a starter, would have been better for Dempsey at this point. One must wonder whether he'll be able to play the full 90 on Tuesday, when the U.S. faces Jamaica in what's now a must-win match in Columbus, Ohio.
Grade: C-. This doesn't totally reflect on him, though. He shouldn't have played the full 90.
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Jozy Altidore was anonymous in the first half, and his performance didn't improve at all after the break. With that said, it's hard to put all the blame on Altidore, who received almost no service from the U.S. midfield.
That's a shame, too. Altidore has already scored four goals for AZ Alkmaar in the early part of the season.
It should also be pointed out that Herculez Gomez manufactured a goal in the very first minute of the game, with one of the few passes he did receive. Still, Altidore shouldn't receive too much blame.
Grade: Incomplete. Let's see if anything changes when the U.S. plays on its home turf next week.
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Tim Howard allowed two goals, and both came on free kicks. So, then, he had a poor game, right?
Not so fast.
The first goal was a fluke, plain and simple. U.S. midfielder Kyle Beckerman deflected Rudolph Austin's low shot past Howard and into the net. That wasn't Howard's fault.
The second goal, a curling 25-yard strike by Luton Shelton, was pure class. Few keepers in the entire world would have saved the shot. It's hard to fault Howard for that one, either.
Incidentally, though, if the players in the U.S. wall had jumped the way they did on Austin's free kick, they probably would have blocked Shelton's effort.
Grade: C+. Besides the goals, Howard commanded his area well, like usual.
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Kyle Beckerman was directly responsible for Jamaica's first goal—in more ways than one.
First, Beckerman conceded the free kick with a bad foul in the middle of the pitch. Then, he redirected a tame shot past Tim Howard into the net.
Beyond that incident, Beckerman wasn't exactly a standout performer. Playing him in the midfield with Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu didn't work, and he will be singled out as one of the villains of the U.S. performance.
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Michael Parkhurst slotted in at right full-back when Steven Cherundolo was ruled out with a late calf strain. Parkhurst had played for the U.S. before, but his inclusion was still noteworthy for its surprise value.
And yet, on a night when few American players distinguished themselves, Parkhurst did an admirable job filling in. He got forward well, delivering dangerous crosses from the right, and defended adequately.
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Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup included several eye-catching decisions. Some worked out, while others didn't.
Starting Clint Dempsey turned out to be a good idea, even though Dempsey lacked match sharpness. Dempsey is the best American field player right now, and his skill on the ball and in front of goal is always valuable—as he showed just 36 seconds into the match.
However, Dempsey should not have played the full 90 minutes. That seems almost too obvious to even have to write. Dempsey was not ready to play a full match, and it showed on the pitch.
The decision to start Parkhurst was a good one, but playing Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones—all defensive midfielders—together was not. The U.S. midfield never found its flow, and the absence of Michael Bradley was costly.
Away matches in World Cup qualifying are always difficult, no matter who you are. For this reason, it's not hard to see why Klinsmann made some of the decisions he did. But the bottom line is that they didn't work, and now, the U.S. badly needs to beat Jamaica on Tuesday.
One could argue that the problem was tactics or that it was the personnel. Either way, Klinsmann did not bring his best ideas with him to Jamaica.
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Not all is lost for the U.S. The top two teams in Group A move on to the final round of CONCACAF, and the U.S. should still be considered one of the favorites to advance.
But by losing to Jamaica, the Yanks have made life much more difficult on themselves. Guatemala now has a genuine shot at sneaking into the final round, and to keep control of their own destiny, the Americans now must beat Jamaica on home soil Tuesday.
One of the most glaring issues for the U.S. was the number of free kicks conceded in the defensive third. Too many fouls were committed there, and most resulted from U.S. midfielders lunging out at Jamaican attackers.
That reflects poorly on the shape of the U.S. midfield and team as a whole. If the team had maintained its shape better, fewer fouls would have been committed, and Jamaica would have had fewer chances to score via free kicks.
Simply put, the players and coaches have only themselves to blame. There was no flow in the midfield, and Jamaica dominated all but the first 36 seconds of the match.
The on-field performance was poor, and the tactics and personnel decisions were questionable at best.
The U.S. will need to perform much better in all phases of the game when Jamaica visits next week.