CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Saturday, June 8, 2013
The U.S. entered the game with the chance to temporarily move to the top of the CONCACAF standings with a win over Jamaica, and the first half started out like it was scripted.
For the first time since taking the helm, Jurgen Klinsmann opted for the same starting lineup in back-to-back games, putting the same team on the field that started and went the first half against Germany on Sunday.
Immediate pressure from the U.S. midfield made for a monopoly on possession, and Klinsmann's choice to keep the lineup together seemed to be immediately paying dividends as Michael Bradley hit the post, Fabian Johnson tested Donovan Ricketts with a low shot, and Clint Dempsey dribbled into the box and forced a corner kick all within the opening five minutes.
Jamaica appeared to be neutralized as a threat from the opening whistle, and the American midfield controlled possession from sideline to sideline, with Johnson, Graham Zusi, and DaMarcus Beasley doing well to keep the team's width and take the pressure off of Altidore and Dempsey in the middle.
Brad Evans, making another start at right back, began to show his own ability to threaten the Jamaican defense as he tried linking up with Altidore on long, searching through balls that required frantic clearances from the Reggae Boyz defense to keep Altidore from running onto Ricketts' net unopposed.
After a quarter hour, Jamaica finally started to settle down and earn some possession back, with nice passing combinations from Garath McCleary, Ryan Johnson and Je-Vaughn Watson starting to pick apart the vulnerable center defense in front of Tim Howard. Despite beginning to develop a positive passing game, the Jamaican team was consistently undone by impatience in the final third, as hurried passes or shots gave possession back to the visiting Americans.
Jamaica looked to unlock the American defense as Obrien Woodbine outpaced Evans and began to turn the corner into the box in the 21st minute, but the Seattle Sounders man made a last ditch slide tackle that poked the ball out of bounds for a corner kick, saving a run on goal from the speedy 25-year old.
Altidore and Zusi finally capitalized on dominant U.S. possession in the 30th minute, when Zusi shook his defender and swung in a cross from the right side, finding Altidore wide open in front of the goal to head the ball in. It was Altidore's second game in a row with a goal, after going a year and a half without scoring for the National Team.
Following the goal, the U.S. continued to dominate possession, and though Jamaica began to earn the ball back near the 40th minute, they continued to hamstring themselves with impatient decisions as they went on the attack, though Rodolph Austin almost unlocked the door between Gonzalez and Evans as Johnson saw Austin running the channel, and chipped into his path. Austin went in clean but a last second nudge from Evans perhaps distracted Austin just enough to put his shot a touch wider than he wanted, hitting the post.
Following the narrow miss, the Jamaican team began to find some more life on the field, and pushed hard for an equalizer going into halftime. McCleary wasted an opportunity with an impatient shot, and Austin killed another attack with a weak cross that didn't make it past Beasley, the first defender.
Into the second half, conservative tactics began to take over with the U.S. holding the lead and Jamaica trying to find an answer to the continued defensive questions being asked of the U.S. lineup.
Jermaine Jones became the victim of inadvertent contact to the head as he went up in the box, collapsing to the ground. He looked unsteady as he walked off the field, and was replaced by Geoff Cameron, who settled into one of his first professional positions as a defensive midfielder.
With time ticking away and Jamaica's hopes of traveling to Brazil next year wearing down, the Reggae Boyz once again began to pick up the pace, trying to find the goal needed to stay alive. It became a story of different tactics as the Jamaicans rushed every play, and the Americans slowed the play down and preserved the lead.
Dempsey came close to doubling the lead in the 71st minute, taking a chip from Bradley in the box and glancing the ball towards goal with his head, but the shot went just over the cross bar.
Approaching the 80th minute, U.S. midfield starting to run out of gas, and Edgar Castillo entered the game for Fabian Johnson, looking to wipe the memories clean from his outing against Germany. The Tijuana man almost had a National Team career highlight just after being subbed in, as he tried to chip Ricketts, but his shot went just wide to the relief of the long-time MLS veteran.
Good passing combinations between Dempsey, Bradley, Altidore and Castillo made for threatening buildups in the offensive third as Jamaican bodies were caught pushing forward, but the plays ultimately died out with a pass too many, and Altidore left the field to make way for Eddie Johnson shortly after.
In the 87th minute, Gonzalez made up for mistakes against Belgium and Germany by making an excellent slide tackle to clear away a dangerous ball that almost ended up with a breakaway on Howard's goal.
Only a minute later, Zusi tackled Woodbine and received a yellow card, suspending him from the next game against Panama. On the resulting free kick Jermaine Beckford appeared to be offsides and appeared to foul Bradley to get free, but both offenses went uncalled and he was left free to head home the tying goal, sending The Office into a frenzy.
With the three points appearing to be lost, the U.S. team could have hung their heads as stoppage time wore on, but a last ditch surge upfield led to a last corner kick. Rather than bending the ball into the box, it was a short pass from Bradley that found Evans, who turned and fired a shot from eight yards out to the far post, beating Ricketts for his first international goal and rescuing the result for the U.S.
It was a nervous final couple minutes of stoppage time, but the U.S. were able to hold on and take the win, their first meaningful victory in Jamaica. With the win, the Americans moved their way up the standings, beginning to look very good for a final push for Brazil.
The U.S. will next play Panama in Seattle on Tuesday.