Commentary

USA gets reminder the red, white, and blue is not sacrosanct on Concacaf fields

By Ridge Mahoney
(@ridgemax)

Bluntly put, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann took the right approach to the Gold Cup but got the wrong outcome.

He picked a team to win the competition rather than further develop the players he deems most promising, and the pairing of young centerbacks Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks got the nod for the semifinal, even though more experienced options in Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream, who had started together in a 1-0 victory over Haiti, were available.

This was a difficult decision. Jamaica’s skilled, athletic attackers are always tough to contain, and Klinsmann regarded this as a stiff test his less experienced defenders were able to handle. Brooks took the blame for failing to contain Darren Mattocks as he headed a throw-in past keeper Brad Guzan for the first Jamaica goal, but a strong challenge from Guzan could have snuffed the chance outright. Brooks also flubbed a good chance to score when a corner kick headed back into the goalmouth landed right at his feet. 

Much ado has been made of the chances generated by the Americans as they chased a 2-0 deficit and certainly wasted opportunities like the one that substitute Alan Gordon directed right to Jamaican keeper Ryan Thompson were costly. And it’s also true that after sluggish starts in each of its three group games, the USA opened against Jamaica as it had in the 6-0 rout of Cuba: sharply and assertively. Jamaica, though, didn't collapse in the opening minutes as did Cuba and ruthlessly took its first two opportunities.

Did the Americans match Jamaica for intensity, determination and commitment? That’s a tougher question to answer. It’s not a subject that is often broached, but at times the USA plays its Concacaf matches with a subtle tinge of entitlement and simply doesn’t tear into tackles and leap for head balls as do its opponents. Over the long haul, such as the Hexagonal, talent and endurance usually prevail. In a one-off game, anything can happen.

Do the Americans care? Of course. Do they care a lot? Definitely. But do they fight as hard and compete as fiercely as do the Haitians, Jamaicans, Costa Ricans and Mexicans? Not always. 

Here’s another question: Did Klinsmann match the preparation and tactics of compatriot Winny Schaefer, who took over Jamaica in 2013 and prior to the Gold Cup mentored his team through three 1-0 losses in the Copa America? Whatever else happened in Chile, Jamaica emerged from that competition infused with belief as well as honed by tough matches against Uruguay, Paraguay and Argentina. After opening the Gold Cup by tying Costa Rica, 2-2, the Jamaicans blanked Canada, El Salvador and Haiti, all by 1-0 scores.

Jamaican soccer is renowned for many things, but grinding out one-goal victories in intense environments isn’t one of them. Beating the USA in U.S. soil is a true turnabout for the country: How many times has the world seen an exuberant, athletic squad of Reggae Boyz win the style battle but lose the game? In achievement as well as attitude, Schaefer has lifted Jamaica to a place the island nation has never been. In a different era, he might well have been fired after the Copa America and replaced by a Jamaican.

Since 1990, native sons who have coached Jamaica include Theodore Whitmore and Carl Brown (three stints each!). The foreign contingent is led by Brazilians Rene Simoes and Sebastiao Lazaroni (two stints each), and everybody’s favorite vagabond, Bora Milutinovic. Former England international John Barnes, a Kingston native, held the job for all of six months. Such managerial churn is one reason Jamaica has qualified for the World Cup only once, in 1998, during Simoes first run (1994-2000).

The extent of Schaefer’s influence needs more time to assess, assuming he keeps the job, but won’t truly be known until after he leaves. In his absence, the program might slip back into a whirlpool of missteps and firings. If the Jamaican federation can follow through by committing the necessary resources and employing the right people -- which is a very big if -- Concacaf teams will have one more formidable foe percolating in the Caribbean. 

For the Americans, a 2-1 semifinal loss to Jamaica is significant mainly by changing the landscape for the next three months. Rather than having the option of resuming the major spring cleaning -- when Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood, and Juan Agudelo raised their stock -- as he revamps the team, Klinsmann instead must prepare for a showdown match in October by which the winner qualifies for the Confederations Cup in 2017. With Olympic qualifying held at the same time, Klinsmann will be forced to choose where to deploy the likes of Morris, Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin, all U-23 players.

The calls for personnel changes will be strident. Reverting to the centerback duo of Gonzalez and Matt Besler, who was excluded by Klinsmann, is sure to be a hot topic. The clamoring for SKC’s Benny Feilhaber won’t diminish, but if Klinsmann hasn’t trusted him up to this point, what would it take for the coach to change his mind? If Julian Green sorts out his club situation and gets minutes, does he make the squad for the decisive match? The team could look a lot different if Danny Williams plays the holding midfield role with Alejandro Bedoya fully fit and Clint Dempsey partnered with a striker in sharp form. And by then Jermaine Jones should be fit and healthy. What's to become of him? Does Geoff Cameron get a phone call he's received only once since the World Cup?

In theory, there’s nothing wrong with using the Peru and Brazil matches as auditions, to try out solutions for the problems exposed at the Gold Cup. Players, more than fans and journalists, fully realize that any team can lose any game in a knockout phase and will be confident of rectifying matters in the playoff. Maybe below the surface they also knew that losing the semifinal, while costing them the title, didn’t eliminate them from the Confederations Cup. Experienced, hardened pros won't lose confidence because of one game.

Every other team entered this Gold Cup knowing its only chance was victory in Philadelphia on Sunday, and played accordingly. Now the USA faces the same scenario in October, and this country has a reputation of coming through when there is no tomorrow.

I hope this loss hurts. I hope this loss stings. I hope getting punched in the mouth and kicked in the shins reminds all of them -- and us -- that the red, white, and blue is not sacrosanct on the soccer field.

8 comments about "USA gets reminder the red, white, and blue is not sacrosanct on Concacaf fields".
  1. Andrew Kear, July 23, 2015 at 6:49 p.m.

    Klinesman is best at getting bad results,

  2. John Soares, July 23, 2015 at 7:26 p.m.

    It's a big loss: Because it's a semifinal and because it's a team rated 40 places below the USA. (no disrespect intended). But it is ONE game. As you say it's a lesson (or several) learned.... Or is it? One thing, you also touched on, is the lack of intensity often displayed by OUR team. The first half and the second were a good examples. YES it happens to every team.... however, too many times with this team.

  3. Allan Lindh, July 23, 2015 at 8:09 p.m.

    Only one lesson, Littlemann is a jerk. Apart from that, we don't have tested pair of solid centerbacks, don't have a holding midfielder, and don't have a number 10 to really provide the creative spark, since Stu Holden succumbed to vicious tackling in the EPL. Were it me, I'd bring in Emerson Hyndman and see if he doesn't deserved the #10 ahead of Diskerud. Looked to me in the U20's that the kids got game. Plus he could take the corners better than anyone on the current squad.

  4. R2 Dad, July 23, 2015 at 11:25 p.m.

    With Randy and Mike both being referees, I'd like to hear about Geiger and his performance. Here's my 2 cents: Geiger was applying the LOTG, which is not what Mexico and Panama were expecting. They wanted typical CONCACAF refereeing, meaning the standard hack-fest we usually see in CONCACAF play. I don't think Geiger is any great shakes, but when you have to re-watch a penalty call in slow motion from multiple perspectives, and STILL can't be sure what you're seeing, I think you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the referee. If CONCACAF is serious about Fair Play they should fine Panama for mobbing the referee--they need a good example for the kids to follow/avoid.

  5. Juan R, July 23, 2015 at 11:42 p.m.

    "He picked a team to win the competition rather than further develop the players he deems most promising, and the pairing of young centerbacks Ventura Alvarado and John Brooks"

    What the heck! Brooks and Alvarado are in player development. They are "young" and inexperienced. Geoff Cameron would have been the best pick to win this tournament in CD. Tim Ream looked good in his one game. Evans, Brooks, Alvarado, and Beckerman all looked hesitant and played scared or unfocused.

    Klinsmann has done well to develop our attack, but the D is nowhere where it should be. Clubs should be doing player development, the top level US Soccer team should be concerned primarily with tactics. This should be top level international play. I can't wait for Hyndman and Carter-Vickers, but they are young and need more experience.

  6. Juan R, July 23, 2015 at 11:56 p.m.

    R2 Dad, I was a low level referee. I made mistakes, but with time I learned how to be better about processing what I saw and what I should do. I did not accumulate the amount of hours that Geiger has, but you have to be certain if you send someone off. If you call a penalty. He saw Vela elbow the Panamanian player and he incorrectly applied the LOTG and only gave him a yellow. That was violent play. Panama could be fined, but they don't care. That performance was not top quality. It's hard to get refs to stay in the game. If they paid me more, I would have done more, but it felt like a side job, and when I had a family, no way I stayed in it. They'll get people who are passionate about it, but I am just shocked. Maybe we do need replay.

  7. Miguel Dedo, July 24, 2015 at 9:37 a.m.

    Above comments have pointed out glaring characteristics of CONCACAF play: hack-fests and mobbing the referee. Supporting calls like Geiger's sending-off and fining the Panamanians for mobbing the referee would help. Expelling fans who throw trash on the field would help. Can CONCACAF managers be bribed sufficiently to do so?

  8. Ric Fonseca, July 27, 2015 at 2:42 a.m.

    Other than Juan R, how many of you have had the abdominal fortitude to officiate a game, whether in the middle, or on the line? Was I a |low level referee?" Nope, 'cause every game was the most important and top of the line game I officiated, whether it was high school, local Sunday league, or a pre-game official before a pro game. BTW, I was also selected to be a state referee assessor, so I know of what I speak. Folks, try and make a SPLIT SECOND decision on anything and then say PLAY ON!!!"

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