The United States reasserted their position within the CONCACAF region, by defeating Group B winners Jamaica 2-0 at RFK Stadium.
Theodore Whitmore decided to start in a 3-4-3 formation for Jamaica. The three back formation allowed Demar Phillips and Eric Vernan to be active in the midfield, while being available to backtrack to form a five-man defensive line when under pressure. The usual three of Luton Shelton, Ryan Johnson, and Dane Richards started as forwards for the Reggae Boyz.
US Coach Bob Bradley departed from his standard 4-4-2. He fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation. Landon Donovan was unavailable to start due to arriving late in Washington from a family wedding. Alejandro Bedoya replaced him as the right attacking midfielder. In going from the 2 striker set to a single striker, Sasha Kljestan was employed as the central attacking midfielder.
For me, the essence of this match was Jamaica’s expectation that the US would start Donovan as a wing midfielder. Bedoya presented a much quicker option down the right side. A few early runs by Bedoya forced Phillips, Jamaica’s leading scorer in the tournament, to be responsible for Bedoya or Steve Cherundolo in the defensive half. The dropping of the second striker into the midfield (in the form of Kljestan) also provided a mismatch in the center of the park. The triangle formed by Kljestan, Michael Bradley, and Jermaine Jones in the midfield was dominant and forced Jamaica to sit back to try and choke off passing lanes. As the midfield would get congested, a quick ball out to Eric Lichaj or Cherundolo relieved the pressure.
Jamaica had two early chances from Shelton and Johnson, but Tim Howard stopped one and the other ended up high. After that point, the Reggae Boyz had few chances until the last 10 minutes. Most of the chances came from the US.
An early problem came from an injury to Jozy Altidore. The center forward pulled up lame on a run towards goal. Juan Agudelo came on, and had a superb match. His movements into the flanks drew out and confused defenders’ assignments. Couple that with Kljestan, Bedoya, and Dempsey alternating runs and being midfield partners, and it created a lot of chaos for the Jamaican team. The best first-half chance for the US came near halftime, as Lichaj made a run behind the defense. His 15 yard shot was grabbed low by Ricketts.
Kyle Martino made it a point to say that Jamaica converted to a 4 man backfield after halftime. That was not true, it remained a 3/5 backline, and the US took advantage of the space afforded them in the 49th minute. Bradley crossed a ball out wide to Lichaj on the left flank. His subsequent cross into the box was headed clear by Jermaine Taylor. Jones struck the rebound first time, and his shot deflected off of Taylor and past Ricketts for the opener.
The US continued to control, and would have put the game away much earlier if not for Jamaican keeper Donovan Ricketts. One thought that Clint Dempsey’s run of poor luck was going to continue, especially after a doorstep header was steered clear by Ricketts. The Texan nearly had another on a free kick from just outside the area, but his shot was within Ricketts’ reach.
The match changed in the 67th minute, when Jones was played through into space. Taylor for Jamaica tackled Jones from behind as the last man, and the referee showed Taylor the red card. By that point, Donovan had entered for Bedoya. 10 minutes later, Maurice Edu would replace Jones, the earlier goal scorer. Bradley rearranged the troops a bit, playing Dempsey at the top and Agudelo on the right flank.
In the 80th minute, Agudelo and Donovan worked a perfect wall pass to put Agudelo free towards the byline. Agudelo passed the ball into the area, through a defender’s legs, and Dempsey finessed the ball around Ricketts and shot into the empty net for the 2-0 lead. That completed the match for the US, and sent them through to the semifinals. They will face Panama on Wednesday evening from Reliant Stadium in Houston, TX.
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