Bob Bradley shook up the line-up–removing the US all-time goal leader–and the formation–going 4-2-3-1– at the outset of today’s Gold Cup quarterfinal at RFK stadium, but it’s the squad’s unshakeable and positionally-sound game that has it hopping into the semifinal on a better foot than they arrived here.
Landon Donovan donned a pinny and found himself a substitute in a US shirt for the first time since 2007, and both Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya were inserted into the starting line as the States looked to quell an upstart Jamaican team.
The first half saw the US control the bulk of the tempo and pound the ball down the right side, beating back Jamaica’s typically high-flying left flank. More importantly for the Yanks in the half–and on the day–was their impeccable defensive integrity that saw smart and calculated forward runs without losing shape.
The only blemish beyond another slow start for Jermaine Jones, was lone striker Jozy Altidore hiccuping on a forward run and having to be subbed out with an apparent hamstring injury.
While the half arrived deadlocked at nil-nil, the US had the better of the play.
The second half saw more of the same from the States while Jamaica’s team shape continued to deteriorate. It would be the aforementioned Jones who would be a key player early on. A one-time volley on a rebound found paydirt after a deflection and it was 1-0 to Bob Bradley’s crew.
After being played forward midway through the half, Jones
pulled a Charlie Davies was clipped on a tackle from behind and Jamaica would have to come from behind one man down.
The US purchased some insurance shortly thereafter as Juan Agudelo, Altidore’s replacement, streaked on to a through ball and slotted across goal for a rushing Clint Dempsey who hitched left with Jamaican keeper Donovan Ricketts bearing down. Dempsey pulled off the sidestep, took a step, and dribbled the ball in.
Final scoreline, 2-0 to the Red and Blue. Jamaica’s tournament is done. The US moves on to the semis and will rematch Panama.
• Bob Bradley’s team moved well as one
Some gutsy calls here by Bob Bradley. First, going 4-2-3-1. And then, removing Landon Donovan from the line-up. Late flight arrival or not, that decision certainly would have been second-guessed had Bradley’s team lost.
Most impressive from the States was their defensive shape, refusing to leave themselves open to a speedy counter from the Reggae Boyz.
At one point in the first half, Michael Bradley–seeing the team’s offensive shape pinched up–actually dribbled backwards to draw out the defense.
The Yanks still stagnated too much off the ball and the Jermaine Jones-Michael Bradley partnership still needs work, but a good day notwithstanding.
Oh and lest we forget, nearly two years after Bob Bradley and Clint Dempsey had a come-to-Jesus conversation at the Confederation’s Cup regarding Dempsey’s role in the offense, now Bradley is showing a pattern of giving Dempsey the freedom, both positionally and tactically, to dominate the game the way he can. Never thought I would have written that last paragraph.
• The effect of Eric Lichaj at left back is, currently, massive.
An excellent game from the rightback-come-leftback.
After a tactical move by Bob Bradley authorized Lichaj to push up and deny service to Dane Richards, Jamaica saw nearly no joy down Lichaj’s flank.
US fans have come to expect that type of performance from Steve Cherundolo, but not Lichaj or anyone else on the left flank.
Beyond hardcore defense, Lichaj was more than useful in the attack, staying wide when necessary and making prudent forward runs.
Further, Lichaj’s presence enabled Carlos Bocanegra to play truer to his central defense role and also freed Bocanegra from any distribution responsibilities on the left.
• Can JJ make himself dyn-o-mite?
We once referred to it as the Jermaine Jones Caboose Effect. As Jermaine Jones, so go the Yanks it appears.
Better from Jones today, who still had stretches of average play.
To this writer, it appears Jones is wrestling with the notion that he’s at least a hair under the player he used to be. You can see it when he got beat on two tackles today and begged the ref for a call. The Jones of two, three years ago makes those tackles outright.
For the Yanks to win the Gold Cup, Jones will need to be at or near his present day best over the next two matches.
The Golden Shinguard
With apologies to Clint Dempsey and Eric Lichaj, young Juan Agudelo deserves this one.
After Jozy Altidore limped off with an injury early in the first half, Agudelo showed he was up to the task with a tremendous match. Agudelo ran well, was responsible with the marble, and found a few of the moves that got the press around him raving a few months ago.
And of course there was the sublime square pass to Clint Dempsey who then netted the insurance score.
Tim Howard: 7
A solid effort from Howard, complete with the customary one or two goal saving plays.
Steve Cherundolo: 6.5
Cherundolo again controlled his side. Got ahead in the attack and lashed some strong crosses. A shoulder knock seemed to slow his game down, but he did the job.
Clarence Goodson: 5
Not Goodson’s best game. He did very well in a few 1-vs-1 situations and stepped up well on oncoming attackers (something the Yanks have struggled with early in this tournament), but his distribution was troubling.
That and he had a slightly “deer in the headlights” look about him today. Watch that going forward.
Carlos Bocanegra: 6.5
Yeoman-like and well-positioned.
Eric Lichaj: 7.5
A revelation on the left flank. Before the tournament, there was concern about Lichaj’s penchant to give the ball away on his weaker, left foot. He didn’t do that today. The rest we covered above.
Jermaine Jones: 6
Once again, uneven. The quality is there as are some of the nasty tackles. Now needs consistency.
Michael Bradley: 6.5
I liked Bradley’s game today for the most part. Finished runs and tackles. Bradley as distributor still has some challenges. Some poor giveaways and ill-conceived switch fields, but beyond that very strong.
Clint Dempsey: 7
Proving masterful when undermatched (is that a word?) against CONCACAF competition. He needs a giant “F-U” match in the next two to elevate to the top of the casual US soccer fan universe with Landon Donovan.
Sacha Kljestan: 7
Brilliant, simply brilliant from the Anderlecht man. Proved more adept than I thought at receiving with his back to the basket and turning. Kept moving in the attack without the ball when the Yanks were sedentary in the first half.
Has been guilty of being too unselfish now a few times at the Gold Cup. US fans should take that as Kljestan has matured overseas into a more complete player and clearly reduced the selfish ways that led to an “overrated” label.
Alejandro Bedoya: 6.5
Tirelessly raced the right flank in the first. Used his body well a few times to shield defenders. His runs were of an aggressive, attack-minded nature.
He just needed to finish one or two of his chances today.
Jozy Altidore: INC.
Juan Agudelo: 7.5
Was prepared for the game and worked his socks off. Never gave up on a play on both offense and defense. An assist and a well-deserved pat on the back.
Landon Donovan: 6
More energy today from Donovan and lots more running in a shortened half.
Maurice Edu: INC
Entered with Jamaica down a man and the result already in the bag.