Despite a 2-0 win, the United States put in a less-than-stellar effort against Jamaica in Kansas City. ASN tactician Liviu Bird looks at what transpired with an eye toward Tuesday's Hex finale in Panama City.
WELL, THAT WAS BORING.
October 14, 2013
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Until the second half of the United States’ 2-0 win over Jamaica on Friday, neither team showed much promise in any area of the field.
The U.S. put what should have been an attack-minded lineup on the field, but it didn’t look as if the players had much urgency to get forward. And why should they? With qualification already in the bag, the risk of a dull match against Jamaica was always a possibility.
Jamaica looked far more dangerous in the opening stages, but as it has throughout the Hexagonal, the Reggae Boyz' relative lack of ability shone through. It was a battle between a team that had already qualified for the World Cup and another that just wasn’t good enough to be in Brazil.
The brightest spots for the U.S. were substitutes Edgar Castillo, Graham Zusi, and Sacha Kljestan. Behind those three, the Americans got into the final third more often in the second half and looked dangerous in attack several times.
Tale of Two Halves
In the first 45 minutes, the U.S. looked like a team that didn’t need any sort of result. More than once, the Americans were content to knock the ball around the back before playing hopeful long balls forward. It completed a series of one-touch passes in the 42nd minute on the left side of the penalty area that looked more like a keep-away circle than a team playing in a competitive match. The ball constantly went back into pressure instead of changing the point of attack, and the end result was a long clearance.
A lot of players walked around the field, disinterested.
After the breaks, things changed with the substitutions. The U.S. went from 174-for-226 passing in the first half (9 of 20 in the final third) to 261-for-295 in the second half, with 40 of 50 completions in the final third.
Icelandic-American forward Aron Johannsson provided some spark to the attack, but he looked nervous on the ball. He completed 17 of 19 passes, but only six attempts went forward. He seems to prefer operating in the space between opponents’ lines, making him a complementary pairing for target man Jozy Altidore.
In the end, Johannsson saw all three of his shots go off target, and he lost possession seven times. However, he looked to be a technical and tidy player with a lot of quality. It was a meaningless game, but it would be interesting to see him against some “real” competition.
Reggae Boyz Sputter in Attack
On the defensive side, the U.S. held strong. As usual, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann selected two holding midfielders with responsibility to sweep up in front of the back line. That’s exactly what Mix Diskerud and Jermaine Jones did. Between the two of them, they made 20 loose-ball recoveries and four interceptions, only one of which was in the attacking half.
In the wide areas, DaMarcus Beasley and Brad Evans held strong against speedy young wingers Darren Mattocks and Deshorn Brown. The Jamaican attack should have played through them, but they found isolation very few times against the U.S. defenders, and they were one for 11 on the dribble, losing the ball 26 times total.
Sparks off the Bench
Landon Donovan’s halftime substitution came as a bit of a shock, not because he wasn’t playing poorly, but because he was far from the only American who had a subpar performance in the first half. He was very active, checking inside to find the ball and looking for open spaces, but he as also very withdrawn.
Perhaps the early sub sends the wrong message to a player who has been a stalwart since his reintroduction to the team. It’s unfair to say Donovan was the worst American player on the pitch, but he definitely wasn’t in top form. Donovan’s lack of success—and Graham Zusi’s subsequent strong showing—said more about the overall U.S. play in both halves than it did about either individual.
Still, Zusi provided a great spark when he came in, as did Edgar Castillo and Sacha Kljestan. Castillo was 19 of 20 in passing, Zusi went 21 for 24, and Kljestan completed 14 of his 17 attempts.
The majority of Kljestan’s passes were in the attacking half, picking up where Diskerud left off. Both of them advanced well from deeper positions in central midfield without really putting a stamp on the game.
Castillo and Zusi, on the other hand, had a direct impact on the final result. Both went two-for-two on crosses, Castillo provided an assist on one.
Zusi had three key passes (passes that immediately result in a shot) and a goal. The competition for Man of the Match comes down to the two of them, even though Zusi played just half the game and Castillo only saw the field for 24 minutes.
The U.S. Won, But Not Really
By virtue of its victory and Costa Rica’s loss to Honduras, the U.S. won the Hexagonal on Friday night. Besides rendering Tuesday’s match at Panama even more meaningless and staying perfect at home in the final round, little was accomplished in Kansas City.
None of the usual suspects won or lost their jobs in that walk in the park. Perhaps that’s why these games should be stocked with fringe players, hungry to prove they belong in the red, white, and blue come next June—such as Castillo, Zusi, and Kljestan.
A win is a win, and the U.S. got another victory over Jamaica. But in terms of progress toward some higher goal, unlocking more keys to a new American style of play under Klinsmann, or just giving the team more confidence that it will play well against top-class opposition in Brazil and elsewhere, the match against Jamaica accomplished little.
Liviu Bird is ASN’s tactical analyst. He is also a contributor to NBC ProSoccerTalk and Cascadia regional editor for SoccerWire.com.