For the usual chronological game recap, I defer to Zonal Marking, who so graciously linked a prior SoccReligious post in his surprise recap of the game. Consider this a more holistic, macrocosmic look at the game.
In his five years at the helm of the USMNT, manager Bob Bradley has enjoyed more than his fair share of criticism. When things go right, kudos are usually heaped upon the players for their gritty performances, while Bradley's managerial decisions are swept under the rug (cf. Spain in 2009 Confederations Cup or second-half adjustments against Slovenia and Algeria in the 2010 World Cup).
Yet when things go wrong—God, when things go wrong—Bradley comes under more fire than Anthony Weiner's, well, wiener (trust me, that will never get stale. The joke, that is).
Maybe it's the self-loathing way of many American soccer fans, or maybe its just easy to pick on the quiet, scowling kid. But after a decisive 2-0 victory over upstart Jamaica in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Gold Cup on Sunday, Bob deserves all the kudos for making the right tactical calls—especially given the adverse personnel circumstances particular to this game.
Part of Jamaica's unscathed run through the group stages was their midfield dominance. They enjoyed the lion's share of possession in each of their first three contests thanks to a 3-4-3 formation newly introduced by manager Theodore "Tappa" Whitmore.
In reviewing film for the game, it became obvious that Jamaica's ability to control the ball could pose issues for the Americans. In many cases, Jamaica were throwing six men in the midfield, with the wide forwards Dane Richards and either Luton Shelton or one of the Daleys, Omar and Keammar, dropping into deeper positions.
With wingbacks Demar Phillips and Eric Vernan pressing forward, the Reggae Boyz often looked a fluid 3-6-1 (or, to be modern, 3-4-2-1), which worked thanks to composure from the back three and stellar hold up play from Ryan Johnson.
In particular, each side Jamaica faced put two forwards against the Jamaican back line—a perfectly stupid tactical move against a three man defense.
To his credit, Bob Bradley recognized this, and instead of trotting out the usual Double-6, Empty Bucket 4-2-2-2, Bradley rewarded the rising form of Sacha Klejstan and Alejandro Bedoya, sending out the troops in a 4-2-3-1. Here's why the American 4-2-3-1 effectively stifled the once-potent Jamaican attack.
On the right, Bradley—much to the surprise of the U.S. soccer media—gave Bedoya the nod over American regular Landon Donovan. Whether that was a decision based on form or family, it worked a) because while Donovan tends to move centrally, Bedoya is more willing to get chalk on his boots and hug the sideline and b) Dempsey also likes to get narrow, further skinnying the U.S. attack.
Bedoya covered a ton of ground and kept Phillips, arguably Jamaica's most dangerous weapon in the group stages, pinned back. Meanwhile, Dempsey occupied his usual narrow left position, but Eric Lichaj provided great overlapping width thanks to Jones' left-sided coverage
This ties in with the above, but lone-forward formations confuse three-man defenses like American history confuses Sarah Palin. While two-man fronts give a natural free man at the back for three-man defense, lone-forward occupies the sweeper, while the remaining central defenders must either focus on the most advanced players (the outside midfielders in a 4-2-3-1) or the central runners (the midfield triangle).
Jamaica never really figured out how to mark the U.S attackers. When Reid and Taylor marked the wide players, Bradley, Jones, and Kljestan picked apart the middle; when they marked the central players, Bedoya, Dempsey and even Lichaj found openings. Eventually, the Jamaicans gave in and shifted into a 5-4-1, sitting back, absorbing American pressure, and looking toattack on long diagonals.
|U.S midfield dominance. MS Paint? Yes, we did|
5 > 2
With Phillips and Vernan retreating to fullback positions, Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin were basically fighting 2 vs 3 in the center of midfield. Add in the narrowing Dempsey and Bedoya (relieved by his touchline-hugging duties by the once-again excellent Steve Cherundolo), and it became a 5 vs 2 battle.
Bradley and Jones' superior abilities aside, Morrison and Austin stood no chance. Perhaps the removal of Austin for the more composed Damian Williams might have done some good. Then again, considering basic arithmetic, perhaps not.
Forget the goal—even without it, Jermaine Jones is your man of the match, America. I've already mentioned his defensive work, but with an additional outlet in Kljestan, Jones' passing was even more dangerous.
We've already seen what he can do with long balls in this Gold Cup vs Guadeloupe, but with another short-range option, Jones was almost flawless on the game, a key reason the U.S. complete 101 more passes than Jamaica in the first half, enjoyed 64.7 percent possession overall, and 87 percent of his passes. You can debate all you want about alleged antics to draw Taylor's red card, but the guy can flat out play.
In conclusion, a few last-minute shout-outs:
Juan Agudelo: When Jozy Altidore went down with a hamstring injury within the game's first 10 minutes, it seemed Bradley's strategy might be done, as the only real target man in the U.S. side was done. However, Agudelo stepped into an unfamiliar role and did quite well, providing more-than-adequate hold up play, running hard (and smart), and even assisting on the Dempsey clincher.
Clint Dempsey's sister: While Donovan's sister kept her twin bro from D.C. until 7 a.m. game day, Dempsey's kept her country in mind during betrothal, getting Clint back by 2 a.m.—enough time for his inclusion in the starting XI.
Carlos Bocanegra/Clarence Goodson: Other than an early-minute snafu (blame Michael Bradley for holding the Jamaicans on), the two were dominant in the back, putting up another clean sheet. Did Ryan Johnson even get a touch all day?
Donovan Ricketts: The LA Galaxy shotstopper kept the Reggae Boyz in the game with a handful of Tim Howard-like saves, including a spectacular denial on a Dempsey diving header.