2014 World Cup Qualifier Analysis: USA Bounces Back, Picks Up Big Win Over Jamaica
There's probably a very rote way to discuss Tuesday night's 2014 CONCACAF World Cup qualifier from Columbus, Ohio, including two massive, mandatory points which must be discussed.
1. The U.S. took care of business and got three points, erasing the memory of the ugly defeat in Kingston three days ago.
1a. Jurgen Klinsmann's five lineup changes, notably taking big gambles on Graham Zusi and Jose Torres in the midfield, among the most prominent, paying dividends.
Now that we've gotten that out of the way, I'll try to make this a little more unique that what you can probably read in 502 other places. As you may or may not know by now I've probably watched the majority of U.S. National Team games over the years on the couch next to my dad. Needing to do laundry -- and get home-cooked meal from mom -- I went to my parents place to kill a couple of birds with one stone.
As soon as I walked in, my dad already said he was nervous about the result and proceeded to grill me on all the what-if scenarios should the U.S. fail to beat Jamaica later that night. Fun stuff.
Hours passed and the game began. Usually my dad will talk throughout, while I'll bury my head into my phone and fall into the Twitter wormhole. Tonight, dad didn't talk. He was locked in from the start, with his leg slowly, steadily starting to twitch and tap as the clock ticked toward 90 at Crew Stadium.
By the time the whistle sounded, like many others, my dad let out a massive sigh of relief.
Thank you Herculez Gomez for your free kick goal in the 55th minute that saved me a trip to the emergency walk-in clinic. (As Nate from ohyoubeauty pointed out on Twitter, we could have lived without Ian Darke's strained 'No. 9 shirt scoring on 9/11' remark.)
Perhaps in 2012 the U.S. should be beyond sweating out nervy 1-0 results vs. a team like Jamaica -- on homesoil -- yet it beats the alternative.
The most important part of Tuesday's win is it puts destiny to advance (hard to think we're thinking like this) to the final Hexagonal back in the Americans hands with a trip to Antigua and Barbuda followed by a home game with Guatemala in October. Six points very ready for the taking, with the U.S., Jamaica and Guatemala now all even on seven points with two matches to play.
Now that the dust has settled after 180 minutes of soccer against the Reggae Boyz not all that much has changed in the grand scheme of U.S. soccer.
* Klinsmann still loves his rugged midfield hardman Jermaine Jones, while the public doesn't.
* We still don't quite know what the U.S. "style" of play under the German coach is going to develop into.
* Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan still haven't found a way to get on the field in a U.S. shirt at the same time.
* The U.S. hasn't morphed into Brazil 1970 or Holland 1974, either.
If there's any one takeaway, it's that Geoff Cameron's emergence in a central defensive role eases some consternation of having to rely on 30-somethings like Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu in Brazil two years from now. That's a definite plus. Small sample size, yes, but an encouraging one nonetheless.
With any luck Klinsmann realized that that a midfield comprised of three hard-tacklers with limited passing vision isn't going to take the U.S. to the next level. It might be nice to get some hard tackles vs. Brazil in a friendly, but with a packed in opposing defense -- not so much.
What struck me as odd about the two Jamaica games, despite a total of four goals being scored how few chances either side produced.(*) That's going to happen when three of the four goals are from free kicks. Friday, in the U.S. loss, it had two shots on goal, whereas Jamaica had four. Tuesday each side had one apiece.
(*) We tend to never think about it as fans, but the condition of the pitch makes such a difference in how a game is played. The immaculate surface in Columbus certainly aided the U.S. possession game in the first half.
That's a little misleading since the U.S. caught Liverpool-syndrome in the first half, hitting the post numerous times as well as being denied by keeper Dwayne Miller on some excellent saves. Credit, though, to Danny Williams (at home in a defensive/shield role) and Zusi for taking some shots from distance.
Through it all, yes, the U.S. probably should have been ahead comfortably at the half, but that's soccer. How many times have the Americans been kept in games but for the one-man heroics of Tim Howard in goal? Even with it still 0-0 it was an encouraging half with Torres and Zusi looking assured on the ball, plus Gomez -- on top of his later goal -- was much more active coming back to get involved in the attack, same with Clint Dempsey although his misguided backheels at the center line weren't necessarily the best idea of the night. (His GIF-face notwitstanding, it was not Dempsey's best showing -- seemed out-of-sync. Strange he played the full 90, too.)
This will sound odd, but Jones -- despite his unloved status -- was effective Tuesday, even as he was clearly targeted again by the Jamaicans. His game is a lot like Michael Bradley, running box-to-box and playing a high-incident, blood-and-guts style. On a weekly basis at Schalke this is very useful, a little less in the international game. He might be a "defensive" minded player, or at least that's what we think of him, but he's not quite that holding guy who starts attacks or relieves pressure. Realistically the best we've seen from Jones is when he makes runs forward into the box, not breaking up attacks or shielding the defense.
Put it this way, we think of every European player as the almost magical combination of first touch goodness and tactical nous. While the technique of the average Euro player is probably better than elsewhere, players like Jones show there is more than one side to the beautiful game.
But back to the game itself, as we've seen on a nearly weekly basis with Arsene Wenger's Arsenal, it's no fun to play when the opponent sticks 10 guys behind the ball. The U.S. didn't dip their heads or get frustrated and the Gomez goal came at the right time before the Americans lost direction and started throwing the kitchen sink at the Jamaicans, hoping to get lucky. (See Mexico's offensive vs. the U.S. at the Azteca last month.)
The final 20 minutes were nervy.
The idea of "defensive" guys like Maurice Edu coming on seems good on paper, but lest we forget possession is a weapon and an effective way to play defense -- look at Spain. Dropping both Zusi and Torres left the U.S. midfield much less composed. Jones-Edu-Williams together, yes, can break up plays but the game didn't exactly call for that. Then again, killing off a game is never the U.S. forte -- look at the loss to Guatemala in June where an 83rd minute goal turned a 1-0 win into a 1-1 draw that basically put the U.S. in this do-or-die game Tuesday night as much as the loss to Jamaica did.
This is nitpicking, yet it seemed like Klinsmann was tinkering with something that was working.
The U.S. can take a bow, if it wants, for doing the business required. The great, loud and supportive fans in Columbus did deserve that, at least.
Otherwise, there's still a lot of work for Klinsmann left to do. Realistically, bar the fluke goal in the first minute for Dempsey Friday, the U.S. created only a handful of scoring chances in the run of play vs. Jamaica.
Michael Bradley and Donovan returning, if healthy, next month should help sort a lot of this out, especially if Klinsmann decides to keep the effective 4-1-3-2 formation from Tuesday and slot Bradley and Donovan into these roles rather than reverting to the 4-3-3 Klinsmann likes to use despite the fact the U.S. isn't blessed with very many wide forward options. Donovan for either Zusi or Torres and Bradley for Jones, on paper, would seem like a no-brainer.
Hell if we want to unravel the orange peel even further, the U.S. -- bar a total collapse -- is going to make it to Brazil in 2014, but we're still almost at square one about what it's going to do once it gets there.
In any event, it was a nice night for Gomez, who deserves a moment to shine.
He's never going to play in the UEFA Champions League or set the world alight, but he fits that classic American mold that's won a lot of matches over the years -- he works his ass off and tries his best. Gomez was one of the guys who, after the loss to Jamaica was frank about the team's play and said it needed to improve.
Tuesday night in Columbus the U.S. did just that ... barely.
Sometimes barely is more than enough, in the end.
As the saying goes, "three points are three points."