In praising U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann as lavishly for his lineup changes for the second game against Jamaica as he'd been criticized for choices in game one, not many of those
commenting focused on a common element of the two games.
Specifically, did Klinsmann's fondness for Kyle Beckerman override his judgment as to why he was stationed for the first game in the role manned so ably by Danny Williams in Columbus? Deployed in a narrow triangle with Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones and starved of wide support from the outside backs, Beckerman and Co. were overrun in Kingston. Williams replaced Beckerman in the 58th minute, and four minutes later a foul by Edu yielded the free kick that Luton Sheldon blasted into the net for the winning goal.
For the second game, Williams took over the holding role in support of Graham Zusi and Jose Torres and a much more fluid and cohesive unit emerged.
The games and situations and tactical instructions, not to mention environments and playing conditions, were vastly different, so a direct comparison is compromised. In contrast to their aggressive exuberance in the first game, the Jamaicans sat back in Columbus, which offered Williams the opportunity to change his role from that of holding mid into a more proactive, engaged catalyst. With that much time and space, Beckerman's attributes of quick movement and solid passing would certainly have been magnified.
There's no way to know how much different the first game would have looked if Williams had been given a start in the holding role instead of Beckerman, or if he'd have been preferred to Edu. The speed of play and the chaotic nature of playing on a rough surface flustered the RSL captain, as well as more than a few of his teammates. Yet it was his foul that offered Jamaica a free kick from which it scored an equalizer when Rodolfo Austin's shot caromed off Beckerman's ankle and into the net.
One tough game won't knock Beckerman out of the U.S. pool, just as one good game by Williams won't guarantee him a starting role. Klinsmann can't be blamed for going with experience, as when Williams did come on in Kingston, he was making just his third U.S. appearance and his first in a competitive international. Yet it's also true that it was Klinsmann who gave Beckerman that trust and playing time in the first place.
In the second game, once the U.S. scored and Jamaica cranked up its attacking efforts, the Americans -- now with Edu on as a substitute --- resorted to some of the unsettled, error-cluttered defensive play that had marred its showing in the first game. Edu took a lot of criticism for his play in Columbus, though the OPTA stats revealed he'd completed 13 passes with only two intercepted, and had won as many balls -- two -- as he'd lost.
In these situations, when one team has gone ahead and the opponent takes the initiative and raises its effort and intensity, invariably it's assumed the scoring team has gone into a defensive shell. The trailing team gets little credit for pushing the play, while the leading team is chastised for sitting back. Seldom is the reality so black-and-white.
In a pair of games in which three of four goals were scored directly from free kicks, getting a clear grasp of what occurred during the run of play can diminish in importance. The gloom following the first game was never as dark and dire as portayed by some observers and fans, yet it can be argued that during the phases of contested play -- the first game in Kingston and the final 30 minutes in Columbus -- the Americans didn't show a lot of confidence and poise in the critical areas of possession and team play.
Whether Klinsmann picks Williams or Beckerman to play as a No. 6, or uses Jozy Altidore or Herculez Gomez as a partner for Clint Dempsey, or keeps Jose Torres as a starter or goes all-in with Graham Zusi when Michael Bradley comes back, there needs to be composure amid chaos, for that is what the Hexagonal, especially on the road, is all about.