For the return encounter with Jamaica, coming on the heels of the United States' first-ever loss to the Caribbean nation, many USA fans wondered who would be the star to step up.
After all, the game had become alarmingly important following Friday’s 2-1 loss in Kingston.
Yet ultimately, this was the American who stepped up: nobody.
And no, that’s not simply a copout. Look at the game, it’s true.
Even still, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the Americans.
Even though Clint Dempsey started the game, he was never at his best. That much was clear from the opening whistle.
It wasn’t that he was timid. (Dempsey has never been accused of that.) It was more that he was the opposite. As if aware of the questions regarding his fitness, Dempsey seemed inclined to extravagance, choosing the more sophisticated option wherever possible, with mixed results.
Dempsey aside though, Jurgen Klinnsman’s side looked very assured in the first half.
True, there was no goal, but the United States hit the post multiple times and had several other opportunities.
The stats have been thrown around already (79 percent possession, 91 percent passing accuracy, etc.), yet the bottom line is that the U.S. looked good in the first half.
Is it critical that the U.S. men's team has a defined "star"?
The Americans were aggressive, pressing high up the field.
This was evident in the scoring opportunities for both outside backs, Steve Cherundulo and Fabian Johnson.
And they genuinely seemed conscious of keeping possession, as the aforementioned possession stat proves. America is certainly making concerted efforts to move away from “kick and chase.”
The Good, the Bad and the Lucky
In the end, it was not one American who was the star. Instead, it was a collective effort. The team's pressing and subsequent efficient passing were byproducts of hard work across the board.
And the willingness to keep the ball moving displayed an unselfishness which was refreshing, given the increasingly domineering nature of the Donovan-Dempsey partnership. (Neither Dempsey nor Donavan are ball hogs, it should be pointed out, though their stature sometimes leads to their being given the ball far too often, creating predictability.)
Conversely, the lack of a star also had negative connotations. None of the players on the field for the United States showed the ability to grab the game by the scruff of the neck.
There was no Michael Bradley, willing his team to victory with boundless energy, nor was there Landon Donovan with his trademark skill. And with Dempsey scuffling, it left a high number of players who were capable of passing the ball to the men next to them yet were baffled when expected to make plays themselves.
It’s not a question of talent or technique. American players looked fully confident in that regard.
It was a question of vision and anticipation. This has been an ongoing issue and will continue to be one for years, most likely.
The result came from Gomez’s goal, though after watching the replay, no one would was calling for its inclusion in ESPN’s “Top Plays.” The reason was that it was luck.
Though credit should certainly be given to the crafty Gomez for putting the free kick on net, it was a very save-able shot.
So it was luck that got the U.S. the goal, and it was lucky for Jurgen Klinnsman that when the final whistle sounded, his team came out on top, despite no single player emerging as the dominant force in place of several missing faces.