Saturday, September 15, 2012

Apt Cliche: US 1 - Jamaica 0

photo by Hazel Motesvia PhotoRee

Scott returns to our pages with some thoughts on the USA's Crucial 1-0 victory over Jamaica earlier this week:

A Tale of Two Halves may be a cliche but cliches are popular because they are apt and last Tuesday night's game between USA and Jamaica was the epitome of this one. Determined to avenge their loss in Kingston just four days earlier, the Americans unequivocally dominated the first half, declaring open season on Jamaica's woodwork and 'keeper, the latter responding brilliantly and the former repeatedly bouncing away scoring hopes. The second half, on the other alternate-universe hand, saw those same Americans, in the waning minutes especially, playing grade-school kickball.

The seismic shift in this game can be directly traced to the 56th minute when Herculez Gomez scored off a freekick because Dwayne Miller picked that moment to be human and botch the save. Almost immediately, USA began to play more cautiously.  Whereas before the US players would patiently string together tens of passes, now they began to get nervous and boot the ball up field, presumably with one eye on the clock. Whereas the first 55 minutes were filled with possession dominance and multiple chances on goal, the Red,White and Blue now seemed to turn yellow, afraid to continue in that same style. 

Jamaica, for its part, was now the team passing and pressing, with such sudden style change clearly affecting the Americans, contributing to their ever-increasing reticence to continue what had worked so well in the first period.  Ultimately, a fine late save by Tim Howard preserved the unnecessarily narrow victory, but not before Jamaica threw the kitchen sink at us. 

On the night, Graham Zusi, in particular, impressed. He was consistently dangerous on the attack and useful on defense. For not having played much with the National Team, he dictated an unusual amount of the proceedings in a positive, creative fashion. 

Also impressive was one of Stoke City's newest signings, Geoff Cameron. An imposing figure in the central defense, he poked away balls, muscled forwards and otherwise thwarted what counterattacks the Reggae Boys concocted. My biggest compliment for this youngster is that I rarely cringed, as I so often do, when our opponents had possession in our final third. 

Also ameliorating my cringes was the ageless Steve Cherundolo who effortlessly snuffed out potential dangers by plucking the ball away from Jamaica's left forward after seemingly tapping him on one shoulder and stealing from the other side.  All this, of course, was in between incessant, skillful runs forward during which he juked, passed and crossed like a veteran winger.  We can only hope that Stevie continues to belie his age, at least through July 2014. 

I was disappointed in Francisco Torres. Yes, Taylor Twellman was aroused when the Mexican-American tracked back to make a sliding tackle at one point (even if he did miss the ball) and waxed on until he could think of something else to say.  But I found his offensive efforts stilted, lacking in creativity, and quite often leading to a surrender of possession. Perhaps he suffered from the inevitable comparison to the surging Zusi, but I, even as a Torres fan, was underwhelmed. 

My overall assessment is that much progress has been made but much more is needed. I like the direction Jurgen Klimsmann is taking the team, especially the emphasis on possession and high-energy play. That 3 critical points were earned, despite the second half let down, is a feather in the German's cap. And with Antigua & Barbuda away and Guatemala at home, the table is set for USA to grace the final group of six. 

This is farlieonfootie for September 15.

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