6513_isi_jamaica_usmnt0911123337 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Tactical Preview

Office Space: U.S. Primed to Exploit Jamaica Defense

The American attack should have no trouble finding opportunities to score on Friday. ASN tactician Liviu Bird studied Jamaica’s match against Mexico on Tuesday, and he saw a team ripe for exploitation in the back.
BY Liviu Bird Posted
June 06, 2013
11:00 AM
MEXICO NEEDED 13 ATTEMPTS on goal to score just once in its 1-0 win over Jamaica on Tuesday. So yes, the chances will be there for the United States on Friday in Kingston. If the Americans can take advantage, the score could be fairly lopsided.

The last time the U.S. visited The Office in Kingston, the home side came out on top after two free-kick goals. Mexico did well to limit those opportunities, forcing Jamaica to earn its chances through the run of play. With limited dead-ball situations, Jamaica’s attack looked uninspired.

On the other end of the field, the U.S. exploited Jamaica’s weaknesses on Clint Dempsey’s first-minute goal in September. Despite changes in personnel from the semifinal round of qualifying, Jamaica had similar problems in the back on Tuesday. Nobody has been able to punish the Reggae Boyz too much so far in the Hexagonal—they have conceded just four goals in four games—but the gaps are there.

Two Holding Midfielders, One Deep
To reinforce the back line, Jamaica holds two midfielders deep, working in tandem with the center backs. On Tuesday, Marvin Elliott and Rodolph Austin played in that spot.

Elliott’s main job was to shield the center backs from attacks. At times, he would even drop between Daniel Gordon and Adrian Mariappa, giving the impression of a third center back and a five-man back line. Most times, Elliott remained free, allowing Gordon and Mariappa to mark Mexico’s attacking players and still have cover.

The sweeper has long been obsolete at the international level, but that’s what Elliott’s defensive role essentially entailed. In the attack, he never ventured too far. Instead, Austin was tasked with connecting the defense with the four attacking players.

Space to Exploit: Right in Front
As such, Austin got caught out of position at times, and with Elliott hanging back between the center backs, the gap between defense and midfield widened. That space on top of the center backs is prime for knockdowns, layoffs, and late runs. Are you listening, Deuce? Got that, Michael Bradley?

Take a look at the above shot from the Sept. 11, 2012 U.S. win in Columbus. Dempsey receives the ball in the middle of the field, about 40 yards from goal, and he has little opposition. The back line is stuck deep, Austin is caught up the field, and Jason Morrison (circled; the other defensive midfielder) is also too high to shield the center backs.

Morrison dives in on the tackle, and Dempsey is gone. The back line is overloaded, but a center back has to step to Dempsey, giving him numerous options to slot the ball through. Needless to say, this results in a pretty good scoring opportunity.

In this later example, take a look at how deep the back line drops once again. This is on a cross into the box, and it’s late in the game when Jamaica is pushing for an equalizer, but the trend is still noteworthy—poor tracking from the midfielders.

This is the space that the U.S. can exploit. It will require sharp runs, quick combinations, and some creativity, but that space is where Dempsey does much of his dirty work. Of all the players on the U.S. roster, it’s hard to imagine giving a more dangerous one the run of his favorite space.

Bad Habits in the Back
In the back four, Jamaica has a lot of problems. Again, the personnel has changed slightly—only Mariappa started on Sept. 11 in Columbus and Tuesday against Mexico—but the same problems persist. In a way, it’s similar to the troubles the U.S. has had in the back. Weak clearances, diving in on tackles, failing to stand up attackers on the ball, and choosing the wrong moments to go forward were only some of the errors on display against Mexico. The only goal of the game, headed home by Aldo de Nigris, is a prime example.

De Nigris gets up right between Mariappa and O’Brian Woodbine on the header. The defense, again, is holding a deep line. Austin is in no real position to cover that giant gap on top of his center backs. Add in poor initial pressure, and Andrés Guardado has all day to pick out a curling ball right into de Nigris’ path.

Time to Get After It
After losing to Mexico, Jamaica is on the ropes. Another negative result could essentially eliminate the Reggae Boyz from challenging for a top-four position in the standings. The U.S. last played two days before that match on Tuesday, so the Americans should be the fresher team, even with travel considerations.

Basically, this is the perfect situation for a multiple-goal U.S. win. The best teams in the world find a way to kill teams off, both in individual matches and in competitions. At this point, not only is it about taking control of the table; it’s also about seriously hurting another team’s chances. With two home games in quick succession coming up, it’s time for the U.S. to take a scalp and move on.

Liviu Bird is a freelance journalist based in Seattle. He is also American Soccer Now’s resident tactical expert. Follow him on Twitter.

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