LATE RALLY LIFTS USA PAST JAMAICA
The United States national team was boosted by a late rally to defeat Jamaica in its final home World Cup qualifier and win the Hexagonal outright for the second straight cycle.
Sporting Park was the venue for the final home game for the U.S team who clinched first place in The Hexagonal in front of 18,467. The venue was clearly important to many of the National Team players, including Landon Donovan, who made his 154th appearance for the team on Friday night.
"This is a game we circled when the fixture list came out," Donovan said in his prematch interview with Yanks Abroad.
The first half was less than admirable from the home team as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted to give auditioning roles to Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson. Those two paired with Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore while Alejandro Bedoya and Donovan comprised the forward six.
The highlight for many US Soccer fans was Johannsson's first start for the National Team. The Alabama born forward had the best chances of the first half, having two clean shots in the first 45 minutes played. His first came off of an Altidore let down but his final shot went in to the crowd behind the goal.
Johannsson had another opportunity at the back post after a corner but his flying volley went over the crossbar. The fact that the young striker was getting looks was more important than the end product, according to Klinsmann.
"What we want to see is that over time that they mature and grow, and that they get more confident" Klinsmann said in his post match press conference. "We told Aron to 'get out there, and be part of this team'. He was excited to have Jozy out there with him because they played together for a couple of months together at Alkmaar.
"He created himself chances, and that's what you want to see from a striker. He knows where the ball will end up. He missed those chances, but he was there. It's good to see."
The other highlight of the first half was the willingness of Diskerud to get involved. Playing next to Jones in the absence of Michael Bradley, his 90 minute performance was an audition for a spot in next summers World Cup.
In his prematch interview, Diskerud told Yanks Abroad "The door is open, one good game and another player can be in."
The starting role for the 23 year old was justly given in Klinsmann's mind.
"You can see that there is a player that is coming through and that is getting more confidence every time he is with us," the coach said. "His technique, his one touch passing ability is wonderful to see."
The US headed in to half time with the scores set at zero, the game calling for an injection of life.
"We expected a tight game," said Klinsmann. "Jamaica wasn't coming here to give us points. We told them at half time 'guys we have to raise the bar here'. We have to raise the tempo. We adjusted a few things and we picked it up in the second half.
"After 55 minutes we passed it through faster because our passing sequences were one touch only. That is when you open up any team. The chances came and I felt on the bench it was just a question of time for when we would get that first goal."
The first casualty of the night came by way of Donovan who was taken off at half time.
"It was a simple performance based decision, there was no [injury] at all," continued Klinsmann. "I thought Landon had problems to get in to this game. He wasn't the only one, other players as well had a bad first half. The substitution at half time was discussed with the coaching staff as we always do, because we felt like we had to do something. We had to speed it up.
"We thought about moving Landon up top with Jozy, but if Aron actually got a chance maybe he could put one in."
The man trusted to bring up the speed of play was none other than the hometown hero Graham Zusi. The Sporting Kansas City wingman injected pace into the game with his first touch, going after open spaces in the final third, an area rarely occupied by the US in the first 45 minutes.
"t's exciting to see his energy, everything that he brings to the table," said the head coach. "It was a tough decision before the start of the game to leave Graham out of the starting 11. We felt like Alejandro Bedoya in the last couple of months has just really came along tremendously well and deserved a bit of continuity.
"Graham was fine with that and I told him to be ready at half time. 'You're going to play in your home stadium, don't worry about that.' He was part of changing the energy and creating more chances."
The first sign of life came from a Zusi free kick that was sent in long towards Altidore. Unable to shoot himself, the forward sent it back into the mixer where Jones was inches away from making contact with the final ball.
DaMarcus Beasley, making his 112th appearance for the USMNT, pulled up with a hamstring injury and was eventually substituted in the 66th minute for Edgar Castillo. The changes continued to flow as Sacha Kljestan replaced Johannsson, moving Jozy Altidore to center forward, as Zusi took his place out wide.
Finally, all of the pieces clicked together just five minutes later as Zusi converted the opening goal. Diskerud tried an elegant dribble into the 18 but was unable to get past the Jamaican back line. Instead of waiting for the whistle, Zusi quickly played Bedoya out wide in to space.
The midfielder's initial cross was blocked, but he was able to recover in time to find the feet of Zusi. From inside the penalty box the Sporting KC man slotted home to make Sporting Park erupt with cries of "Zues!"
The Jamaican players were clearly deflated and it took only three minutes for the USMNT to register another goal. The United States team were high pressing and forced a turnover on the edge of the Jamaican penalty box. Castillo was the beneficiary, and he kept his composure to pick out Altidore who cleanly buried the go ahead goal.
The win saw the USMNT finish with five wins out of five matches, winning 8-0 over that time period.
After the game Donovan reflected on the first half and the game overall.
"It definitely wasn't our best half and it certainly wasn't my best half," the LA Galaxy man said. "It was frustrating for all of us. In the end it's about finding ways to win games.
"[The only players to really stand out] were Graham and Alejandro. I think the guys in the back still played well. But to find a way to win even when we don't play well is a good characteristic that we want to have. There's no guarantee that when you get to the World Cup that you'll play three great games."
The US is still pushing for FIFA rankings, a top 8 placement guaranteeing them a seed in next summers world cup. The next chance to improve their world ranking comes against Panama on October 15th at Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City, Panama.