Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO and DAN KARELL
A disappointing draw looked to be in the cards for the U.S. Men’s National Team, but once again head coach Jurgen Klinsmann pushed the right buttons to help lift his side to victory.
The U.S. defeated Jamaica, 2-0, at Sporting Park on Friday night thanks to a pair of second-half goals that came only after Klinsmann made all three of his substitutions and a formational switch. The win guaranteed the Americans would finish in first place of the Hexagonal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the third straight cycle after Costa Rica lost to Honduras earlier in the day, and saw Klinsmann’s side finish undefeated at home in this round with five shutout victories.
“To finish the Hexagonal in the first position, leading the CONCACAF group and being No.1 in CONCACAF right now, everybody’s excited about that,” Klinsmann said after the match. “We adjusted a few things (at halftime) and we picked it up really well in the second half. It’s just exciting to see this group coming along, how the personality is slowly come through.”
Sporting Kansas City midfielder Graham Zusi, the first of Klinsmann’s substitutions, netted the winner for the Americans in the 77th minute with a well-taken shot that found the bottom left corner.
“(Bedoya) did well to get in on the right side,” Zusi said after the match. “I think his initial pass was blocked, but he stuck at it and did really well to get that second effort into me. After a little bit of a mishit by me, I think I saw it go into the bottom left.”
Second substitute Edgar Castillo set up Jozy Altidore’s insurance tally three minutes later that put the game effectively away and sealed Jamaica’s elimination from World Cup contention.
The U.S. came closest to scoring in a drab first half that they struggled through courtesy of pair of set pieces, but starting forward Aron Johannsson failed to find the mark despite finding himself unmarked on both occasions. Johannsson first smacked a shot from about 15 yards out wide left before seeing a volleyed attempt at the far post sky over the crossbar.
“We expected a tight game,” Klinsmann said. “They were very well organized, they closed the spaces down in the first half and we know them, physically (they’re) a strong team, and they can always hurt you on the counter-attack.”
It was the Reggae Boyz that looked the better side in the opening 45 minutes, but they had no answer for Tim Howard. The U.S. captain made a handful of routine saves to prevent his side from going down and also came up with a big stop early in the second half after Mix Diskerud was dispossessed of the ball inside the Americans’ half.
The U.S. struggled to create much from the run of play and looked destined to end the game without a goal, but Klinsmann replaced Landon Donovan with Zusi at halftime before ultimately switching from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-2-3-1 with about a half-hour left to play.
The results were almost immediate.
Edgar Castillo, Klinsmann’s second substitute, allowed the Americans to widen the field against a Jamaican team that was pressing high from the opening whistle. Castillo constantly overlapped Zusi on the left side and that gave the U.S. an attacking edge they were missing for much of the first hour.
“We said to them simply at halftime, ‘guys you’ve got to raise the bar here, you’ve got to raise the tempo’, and that’s what we did,” Klinsmann said. After 55 or 60 minutes, we passed it through faster with a lot of passing sequences, one-touch only, and that’s when you open up any team.
“So the chances came and I felt on the bench that it’s only a question of time until we get that first goal.”
Klinsmann then removed Johansson and inserted Sacha Kljestan, who helped the Americans keep possession on the game’s decisive play. The ball started on the left and moved to the right before Zusi hit a low shot that snuck just inside of the far post. It was a special moment for the Sporting KC star, and he was able to celebrate it with his club and national team companion, Matt Besler.
“He (Besler) made a long run forward to celebrate with me,” Zusi said. “It was a special moment for both of us.”
The goal gave the U.S. a new-found confidence and they continued to push forward. The reward was Altidore’s insurance strike in front of an empty net following a low cross from Castillo, who almost added a third late but saw his flicked on shot go achingly just wide of the right post. Altidore has now scored in his last six starts for the U.S.
“If you look at this year, 2013, it’s just a tremendous experience for all of us,” Klinsmann said. “With the fans support, every place we played has been sold out in minutes, it’s really an enjoyable moment for all of us.”
The Americans will now head over to Panama, where they round out their 2014 World Cup qualification campaign on Tuesday.
What did you think of the result? Who impressed/disappointed you? Is the 4-2-3-1 formation the one the U.S. should stick with from here on out or is the 4-4-2 still worth trying out?
Share your thoughts below.