(Note: We so wanted to go with “The Beckerman Bowl” as our preview title. Alas, after careful consideration and line-up review, we stepped back from that headline)
The United States takes to The Office Friday in the first game of a home and away series against the Belgium of CONCACAF, Jamaica.
Like Belgium, Jamaica would appear to have a massive amount of individual talent.
Names like Luton Shelton of Turkish side Karabükspor …. now Burnley-bound MLS vet Dane Richards, and Whitecaps future pride Darren Mattocks. Yet, like Belgium, the sum of the parts doesn’t often add up and Jamaica fall prey to a collection of parts working ever so individualistically to try and attain the goal.
Less because they are not team-oriented, more because the parts are all very similar.
Jamaica’s speed forte can and does work, especially in games that are toe-to-toe punch and counter-punch. Jamaica faced down a Guatemalan side–one that gave the US’s A team fits in June–slugging it out with La Bicolor on the way to a 2-1 victory that looked like twenty players on the pitch were doing shuttle run training.
However, and predictably, it can lead to Jamaica playing down to their competition. A 0-0 draw against group rearguard Antigua & Barbuda attests to that notion. (*Remember this point; we’ll come back to it.)
Thus Jamaica enters the turn of this qualifying round in a similar position as the US–in fact probably a stronger one: one win against the second best squad in pocket to zero for the States and playing at home with a right to control their destiny and then look for the draw on the road next week in the US.
The States though should handle this match on foreign soil despite previously not being victorious in the land of Marley, Tosh, Toots & Cliff.
Alas this is a year of firsts (Italy, Mexico at the Azteca) for a Jurgen Klinsmann side that seems to be coagulating into a defensive force with just enough offensive knife-work to etch the right scoreline.
While the opponent might be a new one for the coaching staff, the squads faced off just last year in Washinton D.C. in the knockout rounds of the 2011 Gold Cup. With Bob Bradley at the helm, the Yanks authored a blueprint on how to flummox the would-be Jamaican attack and put down the CONCACAF foe.
Bob Bradley overloaded the midfield moving from his hallmark 4-2-2-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1, pushing an extremely effective Sacha Kljestan in a free Trequartista role into dangerous pockets between Jamaica’s midfield shield and it’s backline.
With Jamaica deploying in what for all intents and purposes was a 5-2-3, the US controlled the run of play and possession eventually wearing down the Reggae Boyz who failed to adjust and eventually met their demise. 2-0 was the final.
This time though Jamaica has made some personnel adjustments and the US has a new coach and slew of players on the disabled list. Jamaica’s doing work in their home stadium as well. It will be a tight match.
Without further Freddy Adu, let’s get to our customary preview.
As usual it goes:
TSG What We’re Looking For
Commenter’s Corner (New edition!)
11 At The Whistle
About the Opponent: Jamaica
TSG What We’re Looking For
The Space-Time Continuum.
If the States are to go on the road here in the first match and wrangle all the points out of the trip, they’re going to do so with a different game plan than the one Bradley employed in June 2011.
Under Bradley, of course, the US was never truly afraid to concede space within their defense, betting on the fitness of their best athletes in central midfield to outrun, out hustle, outlast that of their counterparts. The results were often mixed.
In the Gold Cup battle, Bradley sought to keep Jamaica spaced and hammer the central midfield for scoring opportunities.
Once his squad adjusted to the 4-2-3-1, incisions became gaps in the Reggae Boyz defense and with Michael Bradley as the midfield maestro–he attempted an astounding 90 passes on the afternoon and completed them an 87% clip for 78 connections–the US dropped Jamaica like a fighter felling his opposite after too many jabs to the solar plexus.
With Klinsmann, the States, especially on the road, won’t play that open (unless they’re forced to with high presses as Guatemala proved able to do.). The States will be more than happy with a 1-0 result off a late game header by someone like a Terrence Boyd or Clarence Goodson. The US will look to possess to keep pressure off their defense. Defensive possession.
Whereas Bradley’s game had space in the midfield that his team eventually exploited over time, Klinsmann’s team will look to suffocate their foes and turn errant passes out of Jamaica’s deep midfield into scoring opportunities.
The key for the States when pressing will be to keep that tight shape and not allow Jamaica’s flankers to get the ball on the run and fly unchecked down the touchline.
Here’s an area of the field to watch.
The question of getting the US’s Bundesliga-based fullbacks up the pitch is an important one.
Whereas an advancing Fabian Johnson been instrumental in 2012 to generating chances, the two years previous it was getting right backer Steve Cherundolo overlapping Landon Donovan that was key.
The US will probably play with a single holder in this one–likely Maurice Edu–and Jamaica’s forward wingers are there most dangerous players.
Just how much attacking verve Klinsmann’s team has shouldn’t be judged by the personnel deployment in this one so much as how much license to go forward Klinsmann allows his fullbacks, especially Johnson. That’s your marker on the States going for three points.
No Landon Donovan, no Michael Bradley, no problem? Good question. While Donovan has been pedestrian the for the national team since Klinsmann’s introduction, Bradley has been the opposite, raising his game in the face of the new manager starting the midfielder out on the bench early in his reign.
The US managed a victory in Mexico without Bradley, Dempsey and with a mundane Donovan and Jose Francisco Torres, but this is qualifying. Should fans be concerned?
Will Spurrious Efforts Give Way?
Anyone watching the Yanks can see that Jose Francisco Torres has not done well with the numerous chances he’s been given on the pitch.
For our money, Klinsmann’s continued trotting out of JFT is not without some merit. Torres can possess the ball and make clean passes; maybe it’s just going to take some repetitions for him.
That said, Torres’s lack of assertiveness in whatever role he’s been assigned and lack of imagination when placed further up the pitch, has the US screaming for someone who can chuck passes into willing receivers ready to run on to them.
Bet that Klinsmann will use Clint Dempsey in the role that Torres inhabited against Mexico, the would-be attacking catalyst.
Dempsey is certainly not at full fitness and what you do with a player with his creativity is place them up the field where they can help you and not hurt you with a missed defensive assignment.
Can Clint Dempsey provide a #10-tinged forward effort or will he meander deep as he tends to do and actually crowd the midfield?
» Steve Cherundolo has gotten exposed on US duty against speedy wingers–Franck Ribery for France and Jefferson Montero for Ecuador. This time he likely has Jamaica’s best offensive weapon to neutralize, Luton Shelton, in his kitchen. Watch that match-up.
» Where is Jozy Altidore on the depth chart? As he has done the past two seasons now, he started out the club season hot only to quickly come back down to earth. Meanwhile, Terrence Boyd continues to produce and would appear the understudy currently to Herculez Gomez.
» Once more here on Dempsey.
The US’s sniper is prone to doing a little too much on the ball on occasion especially when teammates stagnate around him and he’s also prone going for goal from odd and far-off angles. Just like in basketball when a three-ball is launched, there are large caroms and/or errant rebounds, this can present a fast break/counter attack opportunity in a unique way the defensive is not prepped for. If Jamaica scores in this one, it’s a good bet that a wild show or deflect pass was the US culprit up the field.
Joe Davis is a USMNT fan and TSG reader from Tampa Bay, FL:
Donovan is getting older, seems to be losing interest in soccer all together, and starting to become injury prone… So why do we keep calling on Danny Williams?
It is becoming more and more apparent that the USMNT needs to start looking for the “next Donovan”, or at least a right winger. Gone are the days of Dolo and Donovan linking up and creating opportunity after opportunity for the likes of Altidore and Dempsey. Could Gatt be that answer? Perhaps.
But at the moment it seems that Danny Williams has a pretty secure grip as Donovans back-up, which doesn’t bode well for the attacking soccer JK wants. He pretty much eliminates our threat from the right side, and puts all the pressure on the left to create. In every game that Donovan has missed this year, our goals have come from the left. Is there not a better RM than a player who has logged only 44 total minutes of club soccer this year?
TSG: Great question and observation Joseph.
First, I think the attacking, flowing soccer that Jurgen Klinsmann wanted when he took the US job was either a clever bit of personal marketing for himself or maybe just some misdirection.
The German way.
The Klinsmann way is insure defensive integrity, cohesion and, above all, discipline. What you have with Danny Williams on the right flank is a player who will cover over an aging Steve Cherundolo and who will help the midfield when it’s pushed up and attacking on the left. Danny Williams is more a solution for attacking on the left rather than the reason the ball goes to the other flank.
If Klinsmann had a player he felt who could attack effectively and intelligently in the open field on the right while providing defensive cover, Williams would likely drop a peg on the depth chart. That said, it’s not clear who that is.
It’s not Josh Gatt, at least not yet. He’s a very raw talent and entrusting a player like Gatt with that nuanced role is not a good short-term line-up recipe. (Gatt is likely better served coming on as a RB once the US has a settled RCB situation). It’s not Graham Zusi who’s not as strong a defender, though doesn’t lack in effort.
Fans saw DaMarcus Beasley at left mid in a similar role against Mexico, but his lack of defensive discipline nearly cost the States the game.
If there was a time to try a different player in that role it could be this Jamaica game where Jamaica will be challenged in getting the ball north to their forwards. Could Klinsmann trot out Joe Corona there? Possibly.
11 At The Whistle:
G: Tim Howard
The skinny: A recent Twitter brush storm had TSG readers attempting to rate Howard appropriately in the club and international top keeper pecking order. Where do you rate him? One thing is clear, if Howard gets injured, it’s not clear just how Klinsmann would go with.
(Note: For more discussion on the US goalkeeper situation, TSG was a guest and discussed the subject on this week’s MLS Reserves podcast. You can find that here.)
DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Geoff Cameron, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson
The skinny: This is a test game for the aforementioned Cherundolo. With Cameron west of him and Williams likely north of him on the pitch, he’ll have some cover. Similiarly, how will Ye Olde Man Boca fair against the speed of Mattocks or Tremaine Stewart or the steel of Ryan Johnson?
Kyle Beckerman Maurice Edu
The skinny: It’s rather ironic that Edu gets the start here in our opinion. Should Carlos Bocanegra not have been called in, Edu would like be the starting center back in his place and Beckerman would have started.
Now with Bocanegra back in the fold, it means that the US needs probably its fastest defensive midfielder to help shield the backline. This pushes RSL’s captain Kyle Beckerman to the bench in favor of Stoke City’s Edu.
To not play the America’s best dreaded player after his fine performance against Mexico is almost blasphemous. And think about it, if he has a poor effort it merely sets the “Redemption Song” storyline in motion for the home return leg. Anywho….
RM/LF: Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones
The skinny: Well, US fans learned (or re-learned) some things about Jermaine Jones. Against a Mexican midfield where Jones could have exerted his superiority in the center of the pitch, (he’s a starter for Champion’s League Schalke 04 for crissakes!) Jones was nothing but a solid yet unspectacular midfield component.
Jones won’t be pulling any creative strings Friday and he’ll be a step down from the vision of Michael Bradley as well.
RF/LF: Clint Dempsey, Jose Torres
The skinny: The preview has spent some time on Dempsey. Look for him to play a centrally and show to either flank on the ball or drift into the space created by Gomez’s action ahead of him. That is similar to the role that Kljestan exploited last time the Yanks played the ‘Boyz.
For all his to-date foibles, Jose Torres–if unapathetic–should still be able to possess the ball against the Jamaican side. Does he deceiver the run-out? No. Will he get it? If Klinsmann holds serve on his selections than yes.
Look for Dempsey and Torres to switch (as Donovan and Shea did early on in Klinsmann’s tenure if the US is not breaking down the Jamaican side).
Lastly, if you’re the US Kaiser, you probably have to start Dempsey here. Dempsey is a volume shooter and volume “touch” guy, meaning he needs to get the ball frequently to get in the flow of the game. If you need a goal late, Dempsey can work obviously but it becomes more of a singular option and the team gears toward spotlighting Dempsey in the attack, sometimes to the detriment of others.
STR: Herculez Gomez
The skinny: Gomez gets the start again and his forechecking is the first line of turnover-enabling pressure that the US will need to execute their game plan. Scoring is a bonus here.
It should be noted that Jamaica probably has their best centerback combination in their history. Work to do here.
» Terrence Boyd gets the nod up top, Herculez Gomez slots back to Jose Torres’s role.
About The Opponent: Jamaica
It may be cliche to talk about “speed,” “pace,” and “sprinters” when talking about Jamaican soccer, but it’s true.
Jamaica quite simply plays vertical.
Their game demands open space and when they get it, they can strike as evidenced by Jamaica beating a pressing, very vertical-in-its-own-right Guatemala in the first group game of this qualifying series.
However, it’s hard to use that speed when you can’t get out on the run and Jamaica wasn’t quite as impressive in drawing the group’s caboose Antigua & Barbuda. In that game the Barbudans sat back in a 4-5-1 and begged the Jamaicans to break them down. It didn’t happen and a 0-0 draw was the result.
(My colleague on March To the Match suggested that Jamaica will look to possess the ball and breakdown the US; if they couldn’t breakdown A&B what chance do they stand. Listen to the latest March to the Match where we discuss USA-Jamaica here.)
Jamaica will likely deploy in a 4-3-3 that’s become their hallmark under Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore. They’ll look to push their fullbacks and forwards up the pitch, fast, while relying on a trident in the midfield to manage possession and provide linking.
MLS journeyman Ryan Johnson is their lone target forward.
On good days, Johnson’s lassoing in service and distributing. On bad days he’s stranded up top, cursing his teammates out to join the attack as he fends of two defenders converging to take the ball away. On either day, he’s usually scowling and definitely brooding.
Should the “Tappa” elect to play the 4-3-3 versus the States, he’ll run the risk of leaving arguably his two best 1v1 players–Richards and Shelton–isolated on the flanks with little service. It’s a real possibility as the US will look to constrict their foes in their defensive third.
Given that likely tactic by the States the demands on a very ordinary midfield of Jason Morrison, Houston Dynamo man JeVaughn Watson and Leeds United holder Rodolph Austin to escape the States’ pressure become very real and critical to Jamaica getting the three points.
Behind the key midfielders is a “Nosworthy” and remade backline. With Demar Phillips out, the backline should feature three different players than who faced the US last year in the RFK debacle.
The centerback pairing of Nyron Nosworthy and Adriana Mariappa has played well together and is a strength for Jamaica. Nosworthy is a perennial starter at Championship side Watford while Mariappa is starting to see time at Redding.
The back four is supported in goal by Swedish leaguer Dwyane Miller as MLS veteran and TSG whipping boy Donovan Ricketts appears to have been the victim of a changing of the guard.
A few other notable MLS players could feature in this one. Youth sensation Darren Mattocks might get a call as a super sub up top, though that role is likely to go to Norwegian leaguer Tremaine Stewart who has Jamaican fans arguably more excited than the Whitecaps front man.
While Jamaica considers this one of their strongest qualifying squads yet, the opinion is not shared here.
32-year-old behemoth striker Ricardo Fuller was deemed past his prime and not called in as was steady Motherwell midfielder Omar Daley. Combined they represent more than 120 caps.
Veteran keeper Donovan Ricketts didn’t get an email–and though he’s not a favorite around these parts–was always a steady influence in between the posts for the Boyz.
Finally, if you’ve been watching the opening of the Premiership campaign in England, then you surely witnessed the early play of Reading’s Jobi McAnuff.
Had Eden Hazard not been the-Belgium-word-for-en-fuego for Chelsea, than McAnuff’s early form might be getting more press. The Reading midfielder is always a threat in possession and a sneaky defender up the pitch as well. Word is the Jamacian Football Federation recruited McAnuff hard to represent his home side in 2012, but the bid fell short. (Update: McAnuff is cautiously expected to be called in for October’s qualifying series). McAnuff is a player who mysteriously retired from international football at the tender age of 23 and has over 117 appearances and where’s the armband for Reading. Perplexing … and pause to calling this Jamaica’s strongest possible squad.
Jamaica though still has enough firepower, but a call to adapt their shape is in order.
While the 4-3-3 seams a likely conclusion to Whitemore’s starting line-up, a better option for the Tappa would be to deploy in the Bob Bradley Special: the 4-2-2-2.
Much like Bradley’s hallmark US teams, the Jamaicans can be deadly when getting out on the counter and vulnerable should that counter falter.
A 4-2-2-2 as shown in the diagram above would better match-up with the States’ likely positioning.
First, it would shield the Jamaican’s backline with two players instead of a single holder. Given the that States like to pinch in their forwards in a 4-3-3 (Dempsey, Torres) the extra player assigned centrally makes sense.
The formation would also force Richards and Shelton into shuttling roles–roles that Dempsey and Donovan proved devastating on within Bradley’s offensive counter.
While this may slightly negate their gaining the corner on the US it would better position the players to support what is likely to be a difficult linking extrication from the US’s forward pressure and to force US centerbacks into some positional decision-making with two forwards up top.
With two-up top Ryan johnson specifically would have an option running off of him–Stewart–instead of slowing the attack to drop to a midfielder catching up.
Going to be a good one.