By Ridge Mahoney
Disappointment turned to elation Friday night when the USA conceded a late equalizer but then scored even later to snatch a 2-1 win over Jamaica in Kingston.
A staunch defensive display evaporated late when Jamaica scored on a header from a free kick, but Brad Evans replied with a neat touch and finish to reclaim three points.
Evans shared the highest grades with several players, including fellow goalscorer Jozy Altidore, as the Americans won in Kingston for the first time.
RATING PLAYER (TEAM) GP/G
6 TIM HOWARD (Everton/ENG) 88/0. He punched away a fierce shot in the first half and was about to put the final polish on a very good night when he stood frozen as Jermaine Beckford popped up in the six-yard box to head the equalizer. It seemed to be a ball Howard could have dealt with. His direction and organization definitely helped the stifling U.S. defensive effort and he had no trouble picking his way through traffic when he needed to.
7 BRAD EVANS (Seattle Sounders) 10/1. The reason he plays so many positions is that he’s pretty good at just about everything: tracking, tackling, passing, heading, and as his crisp collection and shot showed, finishing. His determination and ruggedness were essential against similar opponents, who bested him on occasion but paid a heavy price for doing so. His storybook goal sets him up for a hero’s welcome in Seattle for the game with Panama Tuesday.
7 MATT BESLER (Sporting Kansas City) 5/0. A lot of calm, poised work blotted out the heroic and muscular efforts of the Jamaicans. Besler reacted quickest to clear the knockdowns and second balls supplied by Ryan Johnson, and he seldom let the powerful forward get into shooting range with the ball. His recovery and shoulder challenge to dislodge a ball from Beckford in a very dangerous situation was top-class defending.
6 OMAR GONZALEZ (Los Angeles Galaxy) 9/0. Rudolph Austin surprised him on a one-two and got in behind to clang a shot off the post, yet Gonzalez obliterated a scoring chance in the final minutes with a superb sliding tackle. He anticipated passes and crosses early enough to deal with many of them comfortably, though a couple were sloppily sent to opponents.
6 DAMARCUS BEASLEY (Puebla/MEX) 102/17. Jermaine Johnson had his way with Beasley a few too many times though tight marking and strong defending in the middle defused the serves he produced. Otherwise, Beasley gave a tremendous effort defensively, keyed in part by better starting positions when the ball turned over. There were few opportunities to get forward though he did push up into the middle third to help keep possession.
6 JERMAINE JONES (Schalke 04/GER) 31/2. Rather than being goaded into confrontations by rugged opponents, Jones stayed on message by winning tackles, claiming balls on double teams and passing smartly to keep Jamaica off-balance. He refrained from risky balls hit over distance and instead found the open man. A harsh collision forced him out of the game with a suspected concussion.
7 MICHAEL BRADLEY (Roma/ITA) 77/11. He grew in prominence when Jones left, assuming more influence in the attack by hitting wide balls to Zusi and finding alleys to supply Altidore. He failed to shut off a lane that Jamaica exploited to test Howard from about 25 yards out. Offensively, he hit the post with a low first-half shot and dragged another attempt wide, then in stoppage time waited patiently for the right moment to slip a pass for Evans to belt the winner.
7 GRAHAM ZUSI (Sporting Kansas City) 13/1. A great cross set up the first U.S. goal, but just as great were his series of fakes and touches to prise open a narrow opening to hit that serve Altidore headed home. He threatened several times on his flank yet with consistent defensive work might have played his most complete game for the USA. His foul in the final minutes turned out to be costly; Jamaica scored from the free kick and he’ll sit out the Panama game with his second caution.
5 FABIAN JOHNSON (Hoffenheim/GER) 13/0. A very hit-or-miss performance at both ends. He used many of his touches well during buildup play but rarely took advantage of space down his side. He veered inside sharply to find a shooting lane only to hit a weak effort. He occasionally helped Beasley against Johnson but also left his teammate stranded at times. The hamstring he tweaked against Germany may have caused his departure in the 76th minute.
6 CLINT DEMPSEY (Tottenham/ENG) 97/35. He didn’t get or see a lot of the ball but worked relentlessly to open up space and keep defenders occupied. Sometimes he played underneath his forward partner, at other times he stayed nearly level to give the USA a two-forward look. He looped a header just over the bar in the second half with an opponent right on him, and many of the U.S. possessions included a touch or two from Dempsey somewhere along the way.
7 JOZY ALTIDORE (AZ/NED) 58/15. In the last two games he seems to have found the same meld of timing and positioning that has brought him so many goals for his Dutch club. After losing an early goal to a tight offside decision, he timed his jump perfectly to bury Zusi’s cross. He didn’t slack off despite the heat; he was constantly pulling and dragging opponents through the goalmouth as they tracked his runs. And despite very physical marking, he rarely lost the ball.
6 GEOFF CAMERON (Stoke City/ENG). Pressed into emergency duty when Jones departed with a suspected concussion, Cameron used his experience as a central midfielder and center back to help the Americans tie up Jamaica in the middle. His passing contributed to long sequences of possession.
5 EDGAR CASTILLO (Club Tijuana/MEX) 9/0. Ignored a wide-open Jozy Altidore and chose to shoot poorly instead, but he worked some nice combinations though his tackling could have been stronger.
NR EDDIE JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders). Threatened the penalty area a couple of times before burning clock in the final minutes.
(Ratings: 1=low; 5=average; 10+high.)