Strong midfield, tough defense carry USA into semifinals

[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.

9 comments about "Strong midfield, tough defense carry USA into semifinals".
  1. Daniel Clifton, June 20, 2011 at 8:56 a.m.

    I was impressed by Bedoya, Kljeston, and Agudelo. Get these guys on the field. I am not a big fan of Bob Bradley, but it only makes sense to play with the one forward when you are playing his son and Jermaine Jones together in the defensive midfield, plus the US Mens National team has a surplus of good attacking midfielders as demonstrated by Bedoya and Kljeston. Holden and Feilhaber are not even there because of injuries. Agudelo's play with the ball is what the US needs more of. He is obviously comfortable on the ball. I have been impressed with Lichaj at the outside back position. They looked like a team yesterday. Their ball possession did not allow Jamaica to get into any kind of rhythem offensively.

  2. Walt Pericciuoli, June 20, 2011 at 9:20 a.m.

    A good effort and a much improved performance by all. Perhaps the key is allowing Jones to have more of the ball moving forward rather then Bradley and not always looking to play long balls for Altidore to knock down and control. Let Bradley be the supporting player and balls played to the feet of Agudelo may be more effective.Positive result over a team I think is stronger than Panama

  3. Mike Gaynes, June 20, 2011 at 9:37 a.m.

    Credit where it’s due... Bob Bradley, usually a weak strategist, came up with the excellent strategic and tactical plan the game required. The 4-5-1 was well-executed by the players, and it confused the Jamaicans and enabled the Americans to completely control the midfield. They won every loose ball and kept the Jamaicans back on their heels defensively, and they actually attacked the defensive shell with some success by using the extra wide midfielder on one side and the overlapping Lichaj on the other. Equally successful was the tactical plan on defense. The Jamaicans love to dance around tackles, lay the ball off and sprint onto the return. Bradley clearly instructed the players to tightly mark the pass-off targets and not to lunge into tackles. The Jamaicans found themselves with no lay-off options, so they would either play hapless long balls or dribble into pockets where they were surrounded and relieved of the ball, usually by Jones or M. Bradley, without the defenders having to leave their feet and overcommit to the tackle. Except for the one great chance caused by M. Bradley’s triple blunder – the turnover, the overcommitment on the cutback and the failure to recover, which kept Johnson onside – the potent Jamaican offense never got rolling, and they quickly became frustrated and tentative. Bob Bradley can take a bow for this one.

  4. Amos Annan, June 20, 2011 at 11:46 a.m.

    Surprised at all the negative comments regarding Bob Bradley.

    Doubt that any of his critics have the kind of knowledge about these players that Bob has.

    Fans are only happy when the team wins all the time.

    He has this team winning big time in a country that only pays attention to other sports and where most of the people in the stands are rooting for the other team.

  5. David Huff, June 20, 2011 at 12:07 p.m.

    @ Amos one shouldn't be surprised given the USMNT's lackluster performance stemming from WC 2010 and culminating in the 1-2 Panama game debacle. I'm happy with this result against Jamaica though.

  6. Scott O'Connor, June 20, 2011 at 2:27 p.m.

    Agudelo showed 286% more effort than Altibore ever does. I actually noticed Agudelo harassing a Jamaican player who was dribbling the ball near OUR 18 yard box (our defensive end). That was something you barely see Lazy Jozy do in the other half of the field when forwards are supposed to be harassing the guys with the ball. No wonder he's been a bust in Europe, the desire to play hard has gone missing....

  7. Martin Hernandez, June 20, 2011 at 2:38 p.m.

    I have to admit that I am not a Bob Bradley supporter and I even think that his son Michael is OK at best . . . However Bob did impress me with his unusual line up and the fact that he is FINALLY trying some new line-ups.

    If we want to win against a stronger team like Panama or even Mexico we need to start gelling as a team.

    I would still like to see a new Skipper though!

  8. Kerry Solomon, June 20, 2011 at 6:50 p.m.

    I attended the match and watched it again when i got home. The US played a much better match because they used the thru balls much more than the annoying approach of long balls into the box...This has little success and should be minimized. Keep in mind that Jamaica backed off when the US had the ball and did not mark the US very tightly which gave them lots of room to move. Kudos to Jones, Cherundolo, Agudelo, Dempsey & Bedoya. With the ball on the ground and players actually running forward and not standing around, they proved that they can be a good, attacking team. i have not been a fan of Kljestan but he had a very good match. BB needs to drop his son to a sub and start Edu. Nothing against Michael but Edu is a better defender and tracks better. This match shows that without Jozy the ball stayed on the ground more. In fact, balls to Jozy's feet in the box where he can turn and all he has to do is beat a defender and get off a shot should be used much more. He would be much more effective in this fashion. Play, effective and simple soccer, gentlemen!!!

  9. beautiful game, June 21, 2011 at 10:23 a.m.

    When the opponent, Jamaica, plays a rotten game from back to front, what else can be expected...USMNT won, but they were not able to improve their finishing and playmaking...Bradley holds the ball too long and the samo-samo problem exists, no simplicity of play and off ball movement...and a great dive by Jones.

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