With the US about to play Jamaica twice in four days, I thought it’d be a good time to review their only recent meeting— a 2-0 Yank win in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Gold Cup.
It was a strange time for the Nats. They had stumbled through the group stage, losing to Panama before struggling past Guadeloupe, 1-0. The Reggae Boyz, on the other hand, were flying high. Jamaica had stormed through Group B, going 3-0 with a perfect 7-0 goals for/goals against. Bob Bradley’s depth was being pushed by self-selection— defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Tim Ream had shown poor form, and Fred Adu, plucked from the Turkish second division, had not even been summoned as the offense had sputtered against Panama and Guadeloupe. The US situation was made even more dire by the bizarre wedding scheduling for the respective sisters of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey that would see both stars arrive in Washington, D.C., late Saturday night for the early afternoon kickoff. Manyfancied the Jamaicans as slight favorites.
With the Donovan/Dempsey situation and Chris Wondolowski struggling, Bob Bradley opted to go with a 4-2-3-1, with Sacha Kljestan having perhaps his finest match with the Yanks in the center of the “3”. Alejandro Bedoya (remember him?) and Clint Dempsey flanked Kljestan and Juan Agudelo (who came on after 12 minutes for an injured Jozy Altidore), and with Eric Lichaj and Steve Cherundolo providing great support from fullback, Dempsey and Bedoya were able to pinch to help the US control the center of the park, as Michael Cox wrote:
Jamaica’s problem was that they generally had 3 v 1 at the back, which then created a shortfall in midfield – where the US could gather bodies, pass around Jamaica’s midfield, and dominate possession of the ball. Bradley has long favoured playing his wide midfielders narrow – the US formation has often looked like 4-2-2-2 under his management – and this simply emphasised the US dominance in the middle of the pitch, sometimes creating as much as 4 v 2 or 5 v 2 in that zone (see below).
Jermaine Jones scored the opener shortly after halftime (later changed to an own goal by CONCACAF, although I disagree) and made a powerful forward run that drew a red on Jermaine Taylor. Dempsey later clinched progression to the semifinals off an assist from Agudelo. As Matt Tomaszewicz from The Shin Guardian noted, it was one of Bob Bradley’s better coaching jobs:
Some gutsy calls here by Bob Bradley. First, going 4-2-3-1. And then, removing Landon Donovan from the line-up. Late flight arrival or not, that decision certainly would have been second-guessed had Bradley’s team lost.
Most impressive from the States was their defensive shape, refusing to leave themselves open to a speedy counter from the Reggae Boyz.
Oh and lest we forget, nearly two years after Bob Bradley and Clint Dempsey had a come-to-Jesus conversation at the Confederations Cup regarding Dempsey’s role in the offense, now Bradley is showing a pattern of giving Dempsey the freedom, both positionally and tactically, to dominate the game the way he can. Never thought I would have written that last paragraph.
Interesting how different the US roster is just over a year later. (The entire World Cup-Gold Cup interlude almost feels like a generation ago.) Bob Bradley is gone, of course. Kljestan— seemingly breaking out with Anderlecht and the Nats as a cool, mature central midfielder has gone to Mandyland in the new regime. Eric Lichaj, once the revelation at LB, has suffered injuries and is looking up at Fabian Johnson there now. Agudelo has vanished from MLS, and Bedoya had a forgettable time in Scotland. (Of course, the four nominal central mids + Dempsey was foreshadowing of Jürgen Klinsmann’s current approach.)
The Jamaicans look salty in the attack again— Darren Mattocks, Luton Shelton, Ryan Johnson, and Dane Richards make for one fast attacking corps. Of course, Johnson hasn’t stood out with Toronto, and Richards has been up and down. Of course, a defense potentially featuring Lovel Palmer, Dicoy Williams and Shavar Thomas in front of Donovan Ricketts doesn’t intimidate.