This was pretty much a must win for the USMNT – a decisive moment in the Klinsmann Epoch. Which made the starting midfield selection a bit…puzzling. Granted, Jones would start regardless of who’s healthy, though he’s also a potential time-bomb of petulance and rash action. But Zusi? In just his fourth cap and first competitive appearance? Torres, who has never failed to disappoint in a US shirt? And Williams playing d-mid for the first time with the USMNT?
That’s either supreme confidence, chutzpah, or suicidal bravery on Klinsmann’s part.
Thing was, for the first half, it worked. The US played fluid, one- and two-touch stuff, pinging the ball around and creating a handful of good chances. Only the frame of the goal, some last-ditch blocks, a touch of wasteful finishing, and heroics from the Jamaican goalkeeper kept the sheet clean.
All well and good, but that second half…
Yes, the US managed to score on a goalkeeping flub and make that goal stand up, but the second half performance was worrying in the extreme. Even before the goal, all of the slick, quick passing evaporated in a rash of aimless long balls and cheaply conceded possession. Assured defense gave way to marginal tackles and confusion in the ranks. Jamaica had chances – not great ones – but chances that could have put paid to US qualification hopes. Sure, the US had at least as many of their own, but they looked miles away from the dominating side from the first half.
Isn’t Klinsmann’s supposed strength managing the psychology of the side? It certainly isn’t the tactics. And for all the bravery of his midfield selection from the start, why Clint Dempsey went 90 minutes is beyond me. He was looking increasingly gassed and giving the ball away while trying to do too much in bad areas.
In the end, the job that needed to be done got done, but not in a manner that leaves me with any degree of confidence going forward. Sure, we should make it comfortably to the Hex now, and maybe the US will fare better against teams less inclined to pack things in so much, but I’m more than a little concerned. Maybe the return of Bradley from injury and a match-fit Dempsey make all the difference. We shall see.
And yes, I know that he prefers to play d-mid and plays there for Hoffenheim, but still… ↩
More than a little surprised the US didn’t go 4–5–1 to lock things down, leaving Gomez and Shea on the flanks to pin back the Jamaican fullbacks while Altidore occupied the center backs. Three in the middle would have shored up possession and probably limited all those aimless long balls as well. ↩
No, I’m not ignoring the missing Landon Donovan. He’s a quality player and I’ll be happy to have him back (my long history of complaints about his various disappearing acts and petulance aside), but I’m not sure he’s a difference-maker at the level of Dempsey of Bradley anymore. ↩