Commentary

Smile Jamaica! (No Jurgen, No Cry)

Off The Post can count on one hand the number of times he’s watched an entire game while already knowing the final score. Most soccer people refuse to do this, and for good reason: the passion that you feel for the game is completely drained, and every touch, tackle and hopeful forward run has this weird air of futility about it. It’s a little bit like reading yesterday’s news after you’ve already seen the headlines.

So, why bother, you ask?

Like the many American or American-based Chelsea fans that packed into to Red Bull Park to see the Blues’ defensive shambles against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday night, OTP absolutely could not believe his eyes when, after feverishly refreshing his ESPN GameTracker for several minutes, the final score of the Gold Cup semifinal read: USA 1, Jamaica 2.

So sure was your columnist that the USA men would get the better of the Reggae Boyz that he decided to sacrifice watching the (admittedly, much more important) semifinal clash in order to mount the long (in rush hour, anyway) trek to Harrison, New Jersey, instead. Obviously, this proved to be a naïve decision.

By the way, as an aside, the Blues also lost on Wednesday, and deservedly so, to a team of mostly second-string Red Bulls players. So all in all, Wednesday was a great day for David vs. Goliath (with apologies to Panama).

In any event, as strange as it was watching the USA’s shock loss second-hand or whatever you want to call it, it was also kind of interesting, because when you force yourself to watch a game knowing the score, you almost know what to look for. Indeed, OTP found himself focusing on the Reggae Boyz’ performances a lot more than he probably would have had he watched the game live.

First reaction: Jamaica deserved it. Has anyone said that yet?

While much of the American media reaction centered on how this loss reflects on the state of U.S. Soccer or the U.S. men’s program under Jurgen Klinsmann, OTP has seen very little written about the fact that Jamaica thoroughly deserved the win and its first trip to a Gold Cup final.

Winfried Schaefer’s men are a true team in the sense that there is no superstar. They work hard for one another, they are physical, and they are generally tough to breakdown. But the Reggae Boyz struggle to score goals, relying instead on the defensive lapses of its opponents, particularly from set-pieces, in order to nick a goal. They did that twice on Wednesday.

Contrast this to Klinsmann’s USA, which relied too heavily on Clint Dempsey’s goal-scoring, Brad Guzan’s heroics in goal, and the occasional captain’s performance from Michael Bradley to get to the semifinals of this tournament. When one or more of these players doesn’t perform well -- and against Jamaica, Dempsey was never in the game, Bradley had a poor first half and Guzan’s mistake led to the second goal -- the house of cards comes tumbling down. Make no mistake about it: under Klinsmann, if you don’t attack well and finish your chances, you’re not going to win.

And yet, one of the biggest ironies about Wednesday’s loss is that, at times, it was the USA’s best performance of the Gold Cup with good possession, fewer mistakes at the back and in midfield and some decent chances created. The first half was actually going pretty well until static defending from a throw-in allowed Darren Mattocks to hit a looping header over Guzan that bounced off both posts and in. Giles Barnes’ free kick after that was unstoppable, though Guzan’s offense for handling outside-the-area was. In the second half, the U.S. scored quickly and continued to pile on the pressure in search of a second but the Reggae Boyz defended splendidly -- which, unfortunately, is something we can’t say about Klinsmann’s team at all during this Gold Cup.

Therein lies the difference between the two German coaches: Schaefer’s team is much more comfortable defensively and without the ball generally than Klinsmann’s. And it’s not just about personnel, it’s also about formation, and positional and tactical awareness. You don’t always have to try and be on the front foot to win soccer games, as the Reggae Boyz proved Wednesday night. And though you could argue that the U.S. had plenty of chances to score -- and it certainly did -- but if you look back to the very best chances, almost all of these were the direct result of poor goalkeeping from Ryan Thompson, rather than shaky outfield defending.

So, credit to Winfried Schaefer and his brave Jamaica. They have earned their trip to the Gold Cup final and cut down one of the pre-tournament favorites en route.

As for where this loss leaves U.S. Soccer: well, more or less back to the drawing board, really. Although, thankfully for Klinsmann, losing a Gold Cup semifinal to Jamaica is bad, but it’s not unacceptable. He will certainly keep his job, but he has to learn when and where to embrace a more cautious approach to team defending, or the U.S. will continue to churn out a volatile set of results, instead of the consistency that he and everyone else watching the U.S. men crave. 

12 comments about "Smile Jamaica! (No Jurgen, No Cry)".
  1. Andrew Kear, July 23, 2015 at 8:40 p.m.

    This loss is a reflection on Klinsmann's coaching ability. The loss was simply inexcusable. How many more failed results are needed until it is realized Klinsmann has been a bust as the USMNT coach. This past year after the World Cup has been one long nightmare for the US national team.

  2. Joe Linzner, July 23, 2015 at 8:54 p.m.

    what everyone fails to see, and why, I have no idea. Did anyone notice how comfortable the Jamaicans were on the ball, that they won 90% of the 50/50 balls, intercepted most of our passes by simply moving towards the ball. We just are not comfortable handling the ball. We lack basic skills, all of them, chest traps that bounce 30 feet away, head balls that do not hit our players, we just defend and blast the ball in the general direction while our opponents connect passes. Unless our coach has a magic wand and sprinkles our players with magic dust there is no coach alive that can make anything out of this team. I am sick and tired of us blaming the coaches,, it isn't coaching,... it.s lack of basic talent.. They try but are simply incapable of playing the type of game that will consistently win games. Until a new crop of players with a passion for the game with solid basic skills we will not progress, regardless of the coach....

  3. Andrew Kear, July 23, 2015 at 9:12 p.m.

    Klinsmann is not instilling these skills within the team. Past US teams were skillful enough win the Gold Cup!

  4. Joe Linzner, July 23, 2015 at 10:13 p.m.

    where did you see those skills on prior teams. They are skills that MUST already be there. No National team coach is there to teach basics????? We were famous for bunker and blast and defend and blast and hope for a fast break.....where were you watching us play??

  5. # 12, July 23, 2015 at 10:32 p.m.

    Joe you are correct sir. Bring in the best coach in the world no difference. Every young player needs to be comfortable with the ball. In the US kids for the most part do not play pick up games, street ball, kick around with family, etc. The US national team is a direct result of this lack of soccer culture. It exists with basketball in US. Klinsmann could do a better job of selecting more skillful players and not grinders which he seems to prefer.

  6. Allan Lindh, July 23, 2015 at 11:36 p.m.

    Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden were talented midfielders. Eric Wynalda, Landon Donovan, Ernie Stewart, Brian McBride were talented forwards. Jeff Agoos, Marcelo Balboa, and a few others were talented defenders. Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel were GREAT gold keepers. Of the current group maybe only Michael Bradley would make the squad. And Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley were better coaches than Jurgen Littleman. This ain't progress folks, and JK isn't the only problem, although he sure is part of it -- my kids could have picked a US lineup that would likely have gotten by Jamaica.

  7. Ginger Peeler, July 24, 2015 at 1:40 a.m.

    So, our play against the Netherlands and Germany were just some kind of anomaly...a fluke? It's so strange seeing folks saying good things about Michael and Bob Bradley...not that long ago, so many of you posted how much you hated them. Michael was only on the team because he was the coach's son, right? And the coach? Why, he was one of the worst the men's team had ever had and why weren't we hiring a really good coach like Jurgen Klinsmann? For some reason, we Americans expect perfection from our coaches in any sport in high school, college and the pros. And we want that perfection immediately. Prior to the World Cup we had some dreadful games and then won something like 10 or 12 in a row. We take 2 steps forward and 1 step back. Sometimes we can see the progress and sometimes we wonder when our team is going to show up.

  8. Ginger Peeler, July 24, 2015 at 1:41 a.m.

    But I'm willing to wait until October to see if we can pull it together.

  9. stewart hayes, July 24, 2015 at 8:31 a.m.

    Agreed G Peeler. The I would not say Jamaica was the better team they had the good fortune to turn two chances goals. US marking was poor on the first and Guzan could have reacted better to a header that in all probability was going far post. The call for handball by the GK on a throw is almost never called. Brad nearly did the same thing later in the game probably to test the referee out of spite and was not called. The wall on the free kick did not jump up, in fact, it looks like they ducked. Little details that can kill you and in this game the little errors made all the difference.

  10. Lou vulovich, July 24, 2015 at 12:41 p.m.

    The fact is Jamaica, Haiti, TT, Panama have all gotten better and Concacaf will not be won easy,
    Jamaica is a decent team on any given day. Of course the US would have won the tournament with Beasler, Cameron and Howard but JK is I am
    assuming trying to strengthen the group by giving valuable time to younger players. One player who did a good job at the WC but has no place on the first 11 is Beckerman and I can't understand Klinsmann playing him. There are 5 number 6 in MLS better.

  11. Tim Brown, July 24, 2015 at 12:46 p.m.

    I say, lets get these younger promising players in the playoff game in October. We may lose but we have to start to find the newer talent and give then opportunities to develop in big match situations. Oh and by the way don't you guys remember that Guzan was benched in EPL for making stupid mistakes in goal. Just like in this game the USA were punished for their mental lapses. Play the young guns! Time for a real change.

  12. Allan Lindh, July 24, 2015 at 4:58 p.m.

    Those who think I was too hard above on the current crop of USMNT players might check out this article in the Guardian
    http://www.theguardian.com/football/ng-interactive/2015/jul/24/top-us-soccer-players-usmnt
    Of the current crop, only 2 players make their list of the top 25, Bradley and Deuce.

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