Photo credit: Reuters
It may seem that it would be written in the stars for the United States: playing at home in a qualifier on the 11th anniversary of 9/11. So much pride, spirit and desire. And the men in stripes did not disappoint. Team USA got their win and vengeance over Jamaica after a shock loss in Kingston last Friday, and they are now in better position to qualify for the next round of World Cup Qualifying.
It was, however, a tale of two halves. Not necessarily the temporal halves, but the before and after the goal was scored. Before the goal, the US held 79% of the possession, hit the post three times and was denied, miraculously by Dwayne Miller twice. Most of all, the US looked great throughout the first half with Zusi, Cherundolo and Danny Williams looking especially impressive.
After the goal, the Americans looked disinterested and, at times vulnerable. Marking became sloppy and Dempsey could not get forward with clarity. It could have been so much more if they had kept the same tempo going. It may have been a perfect match altogether.
If the Americans had had Michael Bradley or Donovan on this night, the score could easily have been much more emphatic. Even so, however, nothing in the first 55 minutes made us feel that those two legionnaires were absolutely necessary to win; the score might have been 4-0 by the end of the night.
The forwards did their job tonight. Dempsey held the ball, looked dangerous and demanded respect. This gave Herculez Gomez more room to roam, strike, open spaces and ultimately stand up to take the free kick that gave the US the victory. Altidore's insertion late in the game gave the front line more stability and a way to hold up the play.
The midfield clicked tonight. Even Jose Torres, long-heralded the playmaker by Juergen Klinsmann, looked clear and precise in his passes and his shots. Danny Williams excelled at defensive midfielder and outshone recent efforts by Edu, Jones and Beckermann. Graham Zusi has made a case for himself as a good option on the wing with great passing ability and a superb shot. We will see more of him in the future. Jones was probably the weakest link tonight but he held the Jamaicans back and took a few knocks in the process.
The defense was rather stout with Cherundolo and Bocanegra back in their respective positions. There is no arguing that, for the moment, there is no replacement for Bocanegra, only approximations, and we need Boca for matches like these. Cherundolo has also made a clear point that he is still the man to beat at right back unless Timmy Chandler joins the team or Eric Lichaj improves further.
The ball is now clearly in the US' half for qualifying. A trip to lowly, feisty, and eliminated Antigua and Barbuda and a home match versus Guatemala. Win both and the US advances. Jamaica and Guatemala will face each other next in Central America in a match that could decide their fate in this group. No team can take anything for granted anymore. This is where it ends and it begins.
Subs: Edu (6.5), Shea (6), Altidore (5.5)