The United States squeaked past Jamaica on Friday night in Kingston, but it wasn’t a pretty victory. ASN tactician Liviu Bird takes you through the game flow using annotated graphics and a ton of insight.
FOR THE FIRST TIME
June 08, 2013
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in Jurgen Klinsmann’s tenure as United States soccer coach, he named an unchanged starting lineup in his team’s 2-1 win over Jamaica on Friday. Jamaica only made one change from its 1-0 loss to Mexico on Tuesday, bringing Jermaine Johnson on for Je-Vaughn Watson on the right wing.
The U.S. lined up in a 4-2-3-1/4-4-2 hybrid formation again, with Clint Dempsey pushing up from the midfield to join Jozy Altidore up front at times from his deeper starting position. Jamaica started in a 4-3-3, with two deep-lying midfielders primarily responsible for shielding the center backs.
As expected from Tuesday’s loss to Mexico, Jamaica’s defense looked ripe for exploitation, but the U.S. failed to make the most of its opportunity.
Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley reprised their windshield-wiper style holding midfield roles, with one advancing and one holding. However, Jones had a largely ineffective game on both sides of the ball.
The team in general tried to play too direct, but Jones in particular played a number of errant long passes. Tracking back, he had a handful of defensive interventions, but his signature physical stamp was nonexistent, especially in a game that was chippy from the start.
Bradley was closer to his usual self, assisting on the winning goal and quietly springing a number of attacks while keeping possession in the back half. Defensively, he held a little more than usual, as Jones pressed more often, which resulted in Bradley sweeping up before the ball got to the defense.
None of the triangle players—Jones, Bradley, and Dempsey—found much of a rhythm. Most of that was the result of the team’s long-ball tactics and Altidore’s ineffective runs. Altidore made mostly straight runs and received straight passes, which usually ends in a low success rate.
Gap in the Middle
Jones and Bradley should have had plenty of room to operate because of the gap in Jamaica’s team shape. Defensive midfielders Rodolph Austin and Marvin Elliott held too deep to connect the Reggae Boyz’s defense with their offense, causing stilted transitions from defense to offense.
Garath McCleary, the top point in their triangle, did not check back often enough to find the ball off defensive players’ feet. Most of the interchange in attack happened among the top four players, who each played the different roles in turn, except for target striker Ryan Johnson.
On the rare occasions Austin pushed into the attack, Jamaica looked dangerous, as well as when left back O’Brian Woodbine overlapped into the attacking half. However, it did not happen often enough, especially in the first half.
Jamaica moved to a 4-1-4-1 in the second half, which bridged the gap a bit. But the bad habits and precedent created with the team’s starting formation made it difficult to adjust.
More poor marking
On the first U.S. goal, Graham Zusi did well to beat Woodbine around the outside and serve the ball in, but all three American attackers in the penalty area were still in dangerous positions.
Jamaica’s three remaining defenders left too much of a gap between themselves and the runners in the box, and the gaps between them were too large. Altidore, Dempsey, and Fabian Johnson had plenty of space to finish off Zusi’s cross, no matter where it landed. It was reminiscent of Mexico’s goal on Tuesday, where Aldo de Nigris found a similar gap between two defenders to head in the only goal of the game.
On Brad Evans’ late winner, six Jamaican defenders collapsed on top of the six-yard box, leaving a massive gap on top of them that the U.S. could exploit. Evans did well to recognize that he had time to turn and shoot, but if he did not have that time, Dempsey was also wide open in space.
Jamaica’s defenders were too slow to step up after the U.S. took the corner kick short, and they paid for it with the goal that likely knocked them out of qualifying contention.
Still Work to Do
Yes, the U.S. won. Yes, it was a resilient comeback after a disappointing, late tying goal. But don’t be fooled into thinking the Americans played well. They gave up another lead in another World Cup qualifier, nearly giving away two points in the standings in a game they were two minutes from (somehow) winning.
This country has enough talented players that the national team should not simply scrape by in CONCACAF competitions. That doesn’t bode well for the U.S.’ hopes in Brazil, where the top teams in the world would punish the U.S. for the way it has played in qualifying so far—with the possible exception of the snowed-in Costa Rica match.
With four of the last six Hexagonal matches at home, it’s time for the team to step up, or it’s time for Klinsmann to find players who will.
Liviu Bird is the Cascadia regional editor for The Soccer Wire and an ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.