Jamaica US Crazy!
The US was able to secure three points out of two back to back games against Jamaica to exit the international break atop their semifinal round World Cup Qualifying group. Assuming the rest of the qualifying cycle goes according to plan, no one will think again of the week where ostensibly rational, functioning adult US fans forgot all of their history, lost track of reality, and started to internalize the proposition that we were bound to watch Brazil 2014 without a team to root for.
The Yanks went down to Kingston with a point on their mind. They planned to sit back and break up Jamaica’s forward thrusts with a narrow, destructive midfield. But Dempsey’s early goal gave them an excuse to get passive; and while they defended very well (Jamaica didn’t really create a legitimate scoring opportunity beyond their set pieces), they simply couldn’t get anything going forward with such a defensive lineup. A couple of fouls around the area resulted in direct free kick goals from Jamaica, and the US left without a point to show for their poor effort, despite having taken an early lead.
The US fanbase and media took this in stride, understanding that playing a decent team at home with two of our best players (Bradley, Donovan) out injured and the third (Dempsey) well out of form following a transfer dispute with his club is not always going to result in a quality performance.
Or…maybe not. Twitter and Facebook exploded with panic. One bad bounce could lead to our demise! One bad result at home and we’re out of the World Cup!
The problem with this line of thinking is…it’s pretty much always true. I can name several instances in the last few cycles when one bad result would have put the campaign at risk. The formula for qualification always depends on 3 points from each home game. Draws on the road are hoped for, wins on the road are bonuses…but 3 points at home are mandatory. World Cup qualifying is stressful. More so at home than on the road. On the road, points are gravy. At home, one bad bounce can always knock us out. Soccer games are close, even with a gulf in talent between the two teams – and shit happens.
So while I was nervous for the return game in Columbus, it was the same nervousness that accompanies every home WCQ match when we haven’t secured passage.
We had to have 3 points at home on 9/11 against a Caribbean opponent. Had to. Major lineup changes were needed. Beckerman, Edu, Altidore, Goodson, and Parkhurst were left out for Zusi, Torres, Gomez, Bocanegra, and Cherundolo. And we started the game with purposeful possession, on the front foot and banging shots off Dwayne Miller, and off the post, left, right, and center. The halftime whistle saw us still knotted at 0-0. And so there was palpable relief when Gomez’s free kick rippled the net off after bouncing off the hands of Jamaica’s keeper. And while we didn’t close out the game with style, we did do what we had to in order to nurse three points out of the affair.
And so it goes…survive, and advance.
What’d we learn from this set of games?
- Geoff Cameron continues to grow into his role as a top level Center Back….he had the Jamaican front runners bottled up for 180 minutes. Fantastic.
- You can’t go 100% destructive on the road. Some ability to keep possession is required. Hopefully this is a lesson learned for Klinsmann.
- Edu needs to sharpen up his on-the-ball game in England this year. But he’s such a valuable destroyer that he’ll still be on rosters.
- Dempsey needs some playing time – rusty, slow of thought and slow of foot…he was off his normal pace, even accounting for his right-place-right-time strike early in the away match.
- Beckerman is a good option…against certain sides. And Jamaica is not one of them (ironically, given the dreads and all). He was exposed for his lack of athleticism. Against less physical, athletic sides he can still be a valuable contributor.
- Zusi can play at this level. He didn’t have to do a ton of defending, so we don’t know how he’ll do in a different type of match…but his composure, touch, and willingness to play quickly are attributes that will continue to win him playing time.
- Jones needs to play within himself to be effective.
- Williams is a rock solid option at defensive mid.
- Cherundolo knows how to play in important games.
- Torres ‘meh’ performances keep piling up. This was better than most, but still….
- Altidore might stop getting called in. If Gomez continues this level of effectiveness, and Altidore continues to provide slovenly performances off the bench, he could fall off the radar.
- The US does not know how to play with leads. This is true of all US sides, male and female, at all levels. This is a player mentality thing. We either get overconfident and expose ourselves, or we get nervous and panicky.
- Set pieces matter. Both of these games were decided by them. Our match in Guatemala was decided by one. That’s 5 points sacrificed by conceding free kicks. Don’t foul near the area.
- Bradley and Donovan can’t get back soon enough.
Next, we’ll be in Antigua (or is it Barbuda?) on October 12th looking for 3 delicious road points…then back home against Guatemala in Kansas City on the 16th. We will still need a result in that match, and I guarantee you a stressful week of fixtures as the CONCACAF Hexagonal picture gets colored in.