United States vs. Jamaica: 6 Things We Learned from World Cup Qualifer
Stop worrying. The United States men's national team is back on track.
The U.S. defeated Jamaica 1-0 on Tuesday in a CONCACAF semifinal round qualifying match in Columbus, Ohio. With the victory, the Americans redeemed themselves for a loss to Jamaica last Friday and returned to the top of the Group A standings.
Herculez Gomez scored the lone goal, a 55th-minute free kick that should only enhance his growing stature under U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Around the pitch, several American players distinguished themselves after the disappointment in Kingston.
Here are six things we learned from the match.
Back on Track
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Last week's loss to Jamaica could have been disastrous for the USMNT, but only if it had turned out differently in Columbus.
''We can repair certain things within four days,'' Klinsmann said on Friday. ''We have to bounce back. We have to prove everybody wrong.''
With the win over the Reggae Boyz on home soil, the U.S., Jamaica and Guatemala all sit on seven points atop Group A in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying, but the U.S. and Guatemala hold the tiebreaker over Jamaica by virtue of goal differential.
With only matches against Antigua and Barbuda (away) and Guatemala (home) left—both are matches the U.S. should be expected to win—the U.S. must be considered heavy favorites to advance to the final round.
As group winners. After all that.
Possession and Width
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The U.S. held 80 percent of possession in the first half and hit the woodwork with three of six shots. The midfield flowed, the forwards had plenty of service and, most importantly, the U.S. played with width.
See, it can be done.
Little of that showed up in Kingston, and the U.S. blamed everything from the bumpy pitch to the ref for their failures.
Tuesday was different, and thankfully so. The Yanks attacked from the opening whistle and played with width and menace for the entire first half.
If was, in short, the best 45-minute performance the USMNT has played under Klinsmann in a meaningful match.
Was it really as simple as taking a different approach and tweaking the team sheet?
More on Width
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It is necessary to mention the impressive contributions of Graham Zusi (pictured) and Steve Cherundolo on the right side from this latest result.
Cherundolo sat out the first Jamaica match with a minor calf injury, but the veteran full-back returned to the starting lineup Tuesday and paired solid defense with dangerous runs and passing from the wing.
His contributions proved immensely valuable to the U.S., both defensively and offensively.
Ahead of Cherundolo, Zusi turned in a breakthrough performance in midfield. Like Cherundolo, he provided width on the right with dangerous runs and crosses in his first World Cup qualifying start. He even came close to scoring.
Going forward, Zusi needs to be in Jurgen Klinsmann's plans. Obviously, Cherundolo should remain there as well.
Lots of Midfield Options
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The USMNT has proven it has plenty of midfield options. It also demonstrated that not all of them work, Tuesday night.
Danny Williams (pictured) performed well in central midfield for more than a half before moving out to the right. In the first half, he nearly scored with a long-distance piledriver.
An offensive threat like that from your defensive midfielder opens up space for his teammates. And the versatility Williams displayed is a crucial building block for a solid midfield.
Elsewhere, Graham Zusi excelled and Jose Torres showed he shouldn't be written out of the USMNT picture entirely just yet. The performance of Jermaine Jones, while not pretty, was workmanlike and ultimately effective.
On the other hand, Kyle Beckerman seems to have little future with this team. Let's see if Jurgen Klinsmann can work out his midfield options before the next round of qualifiers.
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Clint Dempsey started again, and again played the full 90 minutes. Friday and Tuesday served as his only match outings since June.
Though Dempsey performed well enough in both matches, it's questionable whether Jurgen Klinsmann should have kept him in for all 180 minutes. That was hardly Klinsmann's only questionable decision this past week.
For now we should leave the first Jamaica game aside and focus on Klinsmann's subs in this latest result. Brek Shea, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore replaced Jose Torres, Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez in the second half, and the U.S. performance suffered.
Maybe that was a coincidence, but the Americans struggled in the closing minutes to string together passes. Edu and Altidore in particular gave away the ball too often, leading to possession and potential chances for Jamaica.
The subs didn't end up costing the U.S. a win, but against a better opponent, they might have.
All That Matters
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With that said, the Yanks deserves praise for hanging on for victory. Nerves showed in the final 15-20 minutes, and the quality of play really suffered as soon as Herculez Gomez put one in net.
But the bottom line is that the U.S. won. After a great performance in the first half, the Americans ground out a result in the second, in a match they truly needed to win.
In qualifying, the former is nice but the latter is what really matters.