[USA SPOTLIGHT] Here are some of the key elements coming out of the USA’s 2-0 defeat of Jamaica Sunday in the Gold Cup quarterfinals:
Agudelo answers the call. Forced into action early when Jozy Altidore suffered a hamstring strain, teenager Juan Agudelo unhinged the Jamaican back line with sharp runs and decisive touches. He so occupied the three Jamaican defenders – which were augmented by a halftime adjustment – that Clint Dempsey, Alejandro Bedoya and Sacha Kljestan found plenty of room and time to operate.
Agudelo worked several nice combinations before running onto a return feed from substitute Landon Donovan and sliding the ball across for Dempsey to tap home the clinching goal. He also surprised the Jamaicans with his strength and power; he fought through several tackles when opponents couldn’t win the ball cleanly.
No Jozy, no problem. Adjusting to the absence of Altidore’s size and strength took a few minutes; rather than lifting crosses into the center of the penalty area where Altidore would have been, Steve Cherundolo, Eric Lichaj and Kljestan instead aimed balls to the far post. Those crosses yielded knockdowns that provided chances like the searing Dempsey volley that Man of the Match Donovan Ricketts spectacularly turned over the crossbar, and Dempsey also got on the end of them to deliver balls back into the center.
Jamaican head coach Theodore Whitmore has crafted a very dynamic attacking team, yet couldn’t come up with any solutions to the U.S. control of midfield and constant penetration of his back line. Smothered by five U.S. midfielders and a cohesive, assured back four, Jamaica rarely moved forward in numbers, and its defense was so porous that if not for repeated brilliance by Ricketts, would have lost by a bigger score.
Jermaine Jones leads majestic midfield. He again lined up alongside Michael Bradley in the center of midfield, and as he did against Guadeloupe, Jermaine Jones played the more active role. His shot from about 25 yards deflected off Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor and past Ricketts to give the Americans a fortunate yet fully deserved 1-0 lead early in the second half.
Thanks to a line of three attack-minded players strung out in front of him – Kljestan, Bedoya and Dempsey – as well as forward runs by outside backs Lichaj and Cherundolo, Jones supported the attacks and on one occasion burst between two opponents into the left channel to chase a ball he narrowly failed to control. He also helped Bradley bottle up Jamaica by patient yet decisive marking and tackling as a solid defensive effort limited Jamaica to just a few shots on goal.
He broke through in the second half during a developing counterattack to pursue a ricochet that forced Taylor into a desperate slide tackle that barely nicked Jones’ foot. A dramatic tumble prompted referee Marco Rodriguez to pull out a red card for a foul that denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. Jones, though, had been cautioned in the first half and will carry that yellow card into the semifinal.
Clint plays, Landon sits. Coach Bob Bradley inserted Dempsey into the starting lineup but decided to put Donovan on the bench. Both arrived in Washington, D.C. early Sunday morning after attending their sisters’ weddings on Saturday, and while the absence of Donovan deprived the U.S. attack of his pace, it also allowed a few teammates to get more of the ball and create some excellent chances. Kljestan and Bedoya, used only as subs in the group phase, teased and taunted Jamaica with their decisive, unhurried touches.
Ricketts three times denied Dempsey with superb saves, including a breathtaking block of a point-blank header from a Cherundolo cross, before Dempsey controlled Agudelo’s square pass and let the ball run past Ricketts’ desperate lunge to tap home a clinching goal in the 80th minute. Donovan had entered the game by then, as a 66th-minute replacement of Bedoya, and Coach Bradley will have another set of critical decisions to make when the Americans play their semifinal in Houston Wednesday on just two days’ rest.