US DOWN REGGAE BOYZ WITH SOLID EFFORT
Finishing was still suspect, but the United States put on their first solid showing at the 2011 Gold Cup in a convincing win over Jamaica on Sunday.
The US began the game with an interesting starting lineup that did not include Landon Donovan. Both Donovan and Dempsey missed recent training sessions to attend their sisters' weddings and did not arrive until the early this morning.
‘When you make decisions on a lineup you size up all sorts of things," US head coach Bob Bradley said. "It's been a busy stretch for Landon and I felt [with an] afternoon game it made sense to use him as a reserve today and that we could bring him on and that he could give us a lot. In Clint's case we thought he could go from the beginning."
Instead, Bob Bradley elected to go with a five man midfield consisting of Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Sacha Kljestan and Dempsey.
Jamaica should have struck first in the fifth minute when Bradley kept Jamaica's Luton Shelton onside and left him with a wide open net in front of him. Shelton instead inexplicably skied the ball over the net from 7 yards out.
In the 12th minute, things got worse for the Americans when Jozy Altidore had to be removed with a hamstring injury. He was replaced by 18-year old Juan Agudelo.
"I always want to be on the field, I was going to be prepared in the first half or in the second half," Agudelo discussed, later. "Unfortunately we lost a player that was key to our team in this tournament, but I feel like this stuff happens for a reason. This is my chance and I'm focused more than ever."
Shortly after Agduelo's entry, the US had a string of chances. Dempsey took a pass from Kljestan and hit a sliding shot that Jamaica keeper Donovan Ricketts punched over the bar. On the ensuing corner kick the US was not able to find the end to a low Agudelo cross that went across the goalmouth just a few feet out.
The US continued to dominate the rest of the half and they played their best soccer of the Gold Cup. But finishing once again proved elusive.
"As a team we just said at halftime that we had done a lot of good things," Bradley said of the team's mood at the half. "Keep playing, keep passing the ball. Make sure that when we come out in the second half we get therhythm going the same way. We were confident that that would take care of things."
The US finally broke through in the 49th minute when left back Eric Lichaj sent in a cross that was cleared. Jones however sent in an absolute laser that deflected off a Jamaican defender and past a helpless Ricketts.
"I thing that we've seen that in recent games the understanding in the center of the field with Jermaine and Michael has been good," Bradley pointed out. "And in different moments you see each one on the move. The other one thinking about covering. Certainly Jermaine has a good engine and has the ability in certain moments to get forward and be a threat. That was nice to see."
For Jones it was his first USMNT goal since first joining the team in October.
"The first goal you score with the national team is always special," Jones said with Stever Cherundolo interpreting. "Even more so that it was an important goal. Hopefully more will come."
Following the goal during the celebration, the German-born Jones made an emotional salute to his father who served in the United States military.
"It was [my] way of giving [my father] a nice little Father's Day gift. He was a soldier. It was a nice sign of respect for him."
In the 60th minute, Dempsey's rough luck in tournament continued as he took a cross from Cherundolo only to have Ricketts save it from just a few feet out.
Kljestan enjoyed a strong performance in his first start of the tournament. Frequently he combined with Dempsey in the attack to create opportunities.
"Clint and I have an understanding that we he gets the ball, I am trying to open space for him to give it to me and basically get it back to him for him to play and move," Kljestan said of his chemistry with Dempsey. "I think its visa versa. Especially with Michael and Jermaine as well, they play good balls into us. I think that between Clint and me, our movement of the ball tonight was really good."
In the 67th minute Jamaica was reduced to 10 men as Jones had broken free past the Jamaica defense. Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez sent Jermaine Taylor to the showers with a straight red, but television replays suggested that the American was untouched on the play.
In the 80th minute the US put the game out of reach when Dempsey finally scored as he took a pass from Agudelo on the right side and sent it past a helpless Ricketts for a 2-0 lead.
The US easily controlled the last 10 minutes and as the final whistle sounded the US walked off the field in a confident manner. Unlike the three previous games, they implemented their game plan and dominated their opponent. They will now move on to Houston for the semifinals.
"I thought we played a good game today," Bob Bradley said bluntly. "I thought we were able to, from the start, to a good job establishing control - passing the ball, keeping the ball moving."
"I think ultimately it took awhile to get the goal and the second goal but certainly as far as establishing our game today, I thought we did an excellent job."
For some on the team, they expected this performance.
"There wasn't overconfidence," Howard described. "There was just an assured confidence in the hotel yesterday that we were going to Houston - no two ways about it. We expected this performance from ourselves today. It's been coming. The mood in the locker room is upbeat."
Dempsey agreed as he noted that the team's confidence was improved and that they executed their game plan on both sides of the ball.
"We just played good [soccer]," Dempsey said bluntly. "We were patient, we were confident, we moved the ball around well. We made it difficult for them to play the ball out of the back. We were able to find players in-between their lines. We were able to create chances for ourselves. I think it's the mentality of keep going, keep pressing, keep taking the game to them. We eventually wore them down. I think we were the better team."
For Bob Bradley, the win was not surprising as he sees a team coming together and this has been evident in recent trainings.
"Again, in group play - [they were] tough games," Bradley concluded. "Things just didn't come easily for us. I think that the training that comes in between games - I see it getting sharper. I think that we had our best training session so far on Friday. Very sharp, good energy, the ball was moving quick that day. Some of that came out today."
"So yes, we are making progress."