CHRISTOPHER MCCOLLUM - Saturday, September 8, 2012
The U.S. National Team traveled to Kingston, Jamaica looking to break another winless streak at a rival's home stadium, but came away short.
Jurgen Klinsmann surprised many by electing to start Clint Dempsey and bench Carlos Bocanegra, with both players recently completing moves to new teams after either not playing at all over the summer, or playing in the semi-pro level of Scottish soccer.
Alongside Dempsey in the attack were Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez, and lodged behind Dempsey was a defensive midfield combination of Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu. Fabian Johnson got the start at left back, Michael Parkhurst at right back, with Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson in the middle and Tim Howard resuming his usual position in the net.
The game started with a bang as Jamaica swung the opening kick off down in the U.S. half of the field, before the ball quickly worked up the middle and pinged around. It fell to Maurice Edu about 35 yards out, who spotted Herculez Gomez making a run into space towards the right side of the penalty box. Edu played a well struck pass into the gap for Gomez, though it looked as if the Santos Laguna forward would be muscled off the ball. Gomez was able to fight his way back into possession however, and struck a shot from a sharp angle about six yards to the right of goal, and five off the touch line. Goalkeeper Dwayne Miller made a good reflex save, but the rebound fell right back to Gomez's feet, who shot again but this time saw his effort blocked on the goal line by a desperate defender. The ball was not cleared from danger, however, falling right to the feet of Dempsey who struck it home with confidence from seven yards out, opening the scoring just 36 seconds into the game.
It looked as if the U.S. was easy street, as the next few minutes saw them looking in control, with hints of further threats playing out in the ball movement. The tide would quickly turn though, and the rest of the game can only be described as an underwhelming performance from the Americans.
Though momentum was shifting, it was not until the 22nd minute that Kyle Beckerman committed a foul about 30 yards from goal, setting up Rodolph Austin to take the free kick. Austin's shot went low into the wall, but Beckerman but already jumped, anticipating a high shot. The ball glanced off of Beckerman's foot and deflected just enough put Howard off balance and unable to save it. The stadium known as The Office erupted, and the U.S. players began to look even less sure of themselves.
Though Jamaica held the upper hand in momentum, the U.S. produced another great opportunity in the 43rd minute as Parkhurst swung the ball in from just outside the right side of the penalty box, finding Dempsey sliding into the goalbox. Dempsey's shot produced a fine save from Miller to deny the Texan his second of the night.
Four minutes into the second half, Howard would be called into action as Austin took the ball outside the right side of the penalty box, close to where Parkhurst crossed in just before half time, and played the ball into the box. Howard was forced to come off of his line and dive into danger, punching the ball clear.
On the resulting counter attack, Jones collected the ball in the middle of the field and fired a quick shot from about 20 yards out. Despite having a good look at goal and space to shoot, his effort was weak and trickled well wide of Miller's net.
Fear grasped the hearts of American fans everywhere in the 52nd minute when Howard went down hurt after a collision just outside of the box on a 50/50 challenge. With Klinsmann not currently having a confident second choice behind Howard, nightmare scenarios began to be played out. Howard limped to his feet though, and was able to keep playing.
Danny Williams entered the game in the 57th minute for Beckerman, making his cap-tying appearance for the U.S., and also making his first appearance in his natural defensive midfielder position.
Shortly after Williams came onto the field, Jermaine Jones possessed the ball on the left flank just in the offensive half of the field, and tried to play a square pass to Edu to relieve defensive pressure. He clipped the ball with his plant foot and missed the ball entirely, swinging through the air. Losing possession right away, Jones committed a dirty, chopping tackle from behind. Though called for a foul, he perhaps avoided a yellow card by hurting himself in the process of the play.
Edu committed a silly foul in the middle of the field, 25 yards from goal in the 62nd minute, going way late into a tackle and bringing down his man. Luton Shelton stepped up to take the free kick, and his curling effort was beautifully struck around the wall and off the inside of the post. Howard had no chance, and no amount of excuses could deny the exquisite nature of the strike.
Terrence Boyd and Brek Shea entered from Jozy Altidore and Edu in the 71st minute, as Klinsmann attempted to bring some speed and width into the game for the final 20 minutes.
In the 78th minute, a Jamaica player rolled over injured in the defensive third of the field, but his teammates played on, advancing possession near half field before finally being knocked out of bounds. Jones, irate with the Jamaicans for not playing the ball out of bounds sooner, received a yellow card for his unsporting behavior.
A bit of hope began to build for the U.S., that perhaps a game tying goal was in reach when a build up of possession in the 80th minute saw the ball pinging around the offensive third, with multiple probing balls into the box looking for an open forward. Nothing came of it though, and the game could be summed up by Fabian Johnson's last ditch effort in the third minute of stoppage time, as he stood with the ball, no one around him, 30 yards from goal, and hit what may as well have been a goal kick over the cross bar.
The United States will face Jamaica in the return leg of this Qualifying set on September 11, in Columbus, Ohio. Though it is not quite a must-win game yet, it will be imperative for the U.S. not to drop any points at home against the new qualifying group leaders.