FOX Soccer Exclusive
How the US rated against Jamaica
With Landon Donovan on the bench, and unbeaten Jamaica ready to pose the toughest test to date in this CONCACAF Gold Cup, the U.S. men’s national team chose the perfect time to deliver its best performance of the Gold Cup.
Finally displaying the swagger of a team capable of winning this tournament, the United States neutralized Jamaica’s dangerous attack and showed off a passing and possession approach that left the ‘Reggae Boyz’ chasing the game and struggling to create chances.
Only an outstanding performance by Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts kept the match from becoming a blowout. The Los Angeles Galaxy net-minder stopped several dangerous chances to keep Jamaica in the match, but the U.S. team’s dominant form kept Jamaica from ever truly threatening in a 2-0 victory for the United States.
“From the start we were able to do a good job establishing control, passing the ball and keeping the ball,” said U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley. “It took a while to get the goal and the second goal, but as far as establishing our game today I thought we did an excellent job.”
As much as the victory was the product of a complete team effort, Jermaine Jones was the star of the show for the United States, overcoming a frustrating first half to dominate the second half for stretches. He hit a long-range blast that deflected past Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts for the U.S. team’s opening goal early in the second half, then drew a red card on Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor in the 67th minute.
Jones’ contributions went well beyond those two plays. He bossed the midfield, first by being a defensive terror before taking more of an attacking initiative in the second half to put even more pressure on a Jamaican side that just had no answers for the U.S. team’s numerical advantage in midfield.
“One half didn't go well, but you can't let that go to your head and just stand there,” said Jones. “You have to keep looking forward and continue to step on the accelerator.
“I will never give up and continue pressing on and in the second half I took a chance at goal and it paid off.”
Jones celebrated his Father’s Day goal with a salute in honor of his father, an American serviceman. That salute, and the celebration Jones shared with his teammates showed just how much the United States has accepted the German-born Jones, and how much he has embraced his role with the team.
“Jermaine’s one of those guys, he’s very similar to me, he looks like he’s not in control of his emotions, but he is,” Tim Howard said of Jones. “He’s passionate, he’s fiery, and he always wants to make the right play. He doesn’t hide from plays. He’s always in the mix, whether it’s passing, shooting, breaking up plays, jumping into headers.
“We were happy for him because guys like him and Michael do so much of the dog’s work that you like it when they get the rewards and today was a really good day for him.”
Jones had help with controlling Jamaica’s midfield. Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan. Both midfielders rewarded Bradley’s faith with strong outings. Their energy and passing helped the United States play a more creative style and helped pick up the slack for the absence of Landon Donovan from the starting lineup. Donovan, who arrived in Washington D.C. at 7am after flying overnight from his sister’s wedding in California, came off the bench and provided a tremendous spark that helped the United States close out a 10-man Jamaican side.
Bob Bradley chose to bench Donovan, but gave the start to Clint Dempsey, who arrived from his sister’s wedding in Texas at 2am the night before the match. Dempsey showed no ill effects from the travel, fitting perfectly into the U.S. team’s 4-5-1 attack. He had a few misses, but also converted a beautiful Juan Agudelo cross for his second goal of the tournament.
Agudelo’s performance was a welcome relief after Jozy Altidore left the match with a hamstring strain in the 12th minute. The 18-year-old striker combined well with the five-man U.S. midfield, and sealed the victory with a perfect pass to Clint Dempsey in the 80th minute.
As well as the offense moved the ball around, the U.S. defense deserved praise for containing a Jamaica attack that was expected to pose a real threat, but never really got going. Fullbacks Steve Cherundolo and Eric Lichaj were key to containing the likes of Dane Richards and Luton Shelton, stifling the flanks and forcing the Jamaican attack to try and build through the central midfield wall of Jones and Michael Bradley.
The U.S. team’s reward for one of its best games in recent memory is a semifinal match against Panama, the same team that handed the United States its first loss in Gold Cup group play history just eight days ago. Panama edged El Salvador in penalty kicks in a wild quarterfinal, but must now face a United States team intent on exacting revenge for the 2-1 loss suffered in group play.
“It’s an opportunity to put things right,” Tim Howard said. “Although they played well on the night (in the 2-1 win vs. the USA), they’re going to have to do it again, and we’re going to make it very difficult for them.”
As Jamaica can attest, the United States has regained its swagger, and now looks primed for a run to the Gold Cup final, though not before a chance for some payback in Wednesday’s semifinal.
Tim Howard (7) - Once again made the saves that needed making in recording his third shutout in four matches.
Steve Cherundolo (7.5) - Another strong effort from the veteran right back, who shook off an early knock to lock down the right side of the field and keep Jamaica from creating chances from the flank.
Carlos Bocanegra (7) - Another steady game for Bocanegra in central defense. Cut out several chances
Clarence Goodson (6.5) - Made some questionable decisions, but improved as the game went on and had a much better second half.
Eric Lichaj (7.5) - Though there were times you could see the lack of a left foot, Lichaj got forward very well and handled the tricky Dane Richards extremely well.
Jermaine Jones (8) - A beast in the middle, he got frustrated in the first half with some calls and plays not going his way, but eventually settled down and really bossed the game. Once he started getting forward more, Jamaica began struggling to deal with the U.S. attack.
Michael Bradley (7) - Kept the ball moving, but wasn’t as aggressive as in past games, though that may have been a tactical mandate.
Alejandro Bedoya (7.5) - Provided incredible energy, and was surprisingly effective in the air. His mobility and well-timed runs helped keep the offense flowing.
Sacha Kljestan (7) - Smooth on the ball and very smart with his passing, Kljestan helped the U.S. attack keep the ball and move it around effectively.
Clint Dempsey (7.5) - Looked comfortable floating in the middle of the park and picking his spots to make runs and drop off passes, Dempsey didn’t show much of an effect from having flown back from a wedding the night before.
Jozy Altidore (NR) - Injured just nine minutes in the match, Altidore didn’t have time to make an impact
Juan Agudelo (7) - Came on with confidence and went after Jamaican defenders every chance he got. Showed some flashes of immaturity with certain decisions, but
Landon Donovan (6.5) - Started slowly when he came on, but eventually hit his stride and found a dominant stretch that helped put the game away. The rest could do him some good ahead of the Gold Cup semifinals.
Maurice Edu (6) - Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley keep playing well, but Edu has been very sharp off the bench in limited minutes. He was good again in 15 minutes against Jamaica.
Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FoxSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the U.S. national team.