Posted on September 8, 2012
By Michael Lewis
KINGSTOWN, Jamaica — Fresh off its historic and stunning 1-0 win over Mexico City, the United States entered Friday’s CONCACAF Group A encounter brimming with confidence, thinking it could finally win its first World Cup qualifier on this Caribbean island.
Instead, the Americans walked out of The Office, shaking their heads, wondering where it went wrong as Jamaica finally recorded a victory over them, a stunning 2-1 result that put the hosts atop the group.
The Reggae Boyz (2-0-1, seven points) converted a pair of free kicks into goals — including Luke Shelton’s 28-yard effort in the 62nd minutethat broke a 1-1 tie with the Americans (1-1-1, four)– before an enthusiastic and loud near capacity crowd.
After referee Marco Rodriguez blew his final whistle, hundreds of Jamaican fans spilled out onto the field to congratulate their heroes on their historic achievement. After all, they snaped an 18-game winless streak (0-10-8) against the Americans dating back to their first meeting in 1988.
It also was the first U.S. loss to a Caribbean team in a qualifier that mattered in more than 43 years, since a 1-0 defeat to Haiti in Port-au-Prince on May 11, 1969. That loss closed out a disappointing qualifying campaign for the 1970 World Cup. The Americans dropped a 2-1 decision at Trinidad & Tobago in 2008, but they already had clinched a spot in the next round.
“They had a tremendous amount of energy and at the end of the day, they deserved that win,” U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann said of Jamaica. “They were hungrier and they were more determined.”
Now, how often does a U.S. national coach say that about the opposition? The U.S.is supposed to have those characteristics, which concerned goalkeeper Tim Howard.
“When you’re us and you’re Mexico, teams are gunning for you,” he said. “Tonight, it was like they won the World Cup. You saw what it meant to them. Sometimes when you are on top for a long period of time, you forget that feeling what it’s like to win a game and for it to it to mean so much. We’ll get back to those winning ways. And we’ve got to do it quickly.”
As in by Tuesday, when the U.S. will host Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio. The Americans cannot afford to give away any more points if it has designs of qualifying for next year’s hexagonal.
“It’s not doom and gloom,” Howard said. “I don’t think we’ll come out and play any worse than that on Tuesday. It’s up to us to respond. I think we will. We’ve always responded before.”
But it could become doom and gloom quickly enough if the Americans continue to make mistakes.
“We need the points,” said Clint Dempsey, who scored the lone U.S. goal 35 seconds into the match. “If you start giving away points, you could find yourself not qualifying.”
The Americans said they were not overconfident after their 1-0 triumph in Azteca Stadium on Aug. 15.
“No, not all,” striker Herculez Gomez said. “Wins like Italy and wins like Mexico don’t anything if we can’t apply it in this type of environment. We’re upset, but we’re not defeated. We know that great things can happen to us on Tuesday and everybody’s here is chomping at the bit.”
There was plenty of blame to go around. The team was missed its most experienced and most important players. Midfielders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley were sidelined with injuries, which devastated a midfield that could not move the ball around consistently and made more than its share of mistakes.
Veteran defenders Carlos Bocanegra, the team captain who usually plays themiddle, and right back Steve Cherundolo sat the entire 90 minutes on the bench. Cherundolo had picked up an injury at practice on Thursday and Klinsmann said he did not want to take a risk. The coach said he did not start Bocanegra because was not in a rhythm, given last-minute transfer from Rangers, which has been demoted to the fourth tier of Scottish soccer, to Racing Santander in the Spanish Second Division. The two center backs, Geoff Cameron and Clarence Goodson, played well.
The Americans had trouble taking advantage of the width of the field. On the other hand, the Jamaicans took advantage of their speed and made life miserable for the visitors on several occasions.
If you blinked in the opening minute, you would have missed the U.S. goal, which was scored by Dempsey, who had not played a competitive game since June due to his transfer from Fulham to Tottenham in the English Premier League last week.
Maurice Edu, teaming with Kyle Beckerman in central midfield, fed Gomez. The USA striker fired two consecutive shots, the first one saved by goalkeeper Dwayne Miller, the second one blocked by a defender. The rebound came to Dempsey, who rifled the ball into the net with the game only 35 seconds old.
“Clint did as much as could for us today,” Gomez said. “He always gives his all. He’s a great player. But we need more of that. We need more players like that. We’ve got a lot more in the second half, but it was too little, too late.”
Dempsey immediately ran to a small cluster of American supporters near the Jamaican net and saluted them, celebrating his eighth career qualifying goal, which boosted him into a fourth-place tie with Eddie Johnson on the all-time U.S. list. It also was the third consecutive qualifier that Dempsey has scored. His fastest qualifying goal was 53 seconds into an 8-0 triumph over Barbados on June 15, 2008.
“This is going to sound stupid. I hate scoring early,” Howard said. “You never really get into the rhythm of the game. I think anytime you see a team score, they immediately come back and go into a shell. Early on, you want to find a rhythm in the game. You want to be winning the team. but I know you get my point. The opening goal was how we thought we were going to open them up, passing in and out, getting wide and playing it in. We always thought that was going to be the key to success for us. we just didn’t do it enough.”
The Reggae Boyz, however, kept pressing and their persistence paid off in the 24th minute. After a Beckerman giveaway, the midfielder fouled Lovel Palmer 28 yards out. Rodolph Austin then powered a low free kick, that deflected off the inside of Beckerman’s right leg, past Howard to equalize at 1-1.
“We talked about them being dangerous on set pieces and that being one of their strengths,” Howard said. “We paid the price. We knew what we were up against. it was our own fault in losing concentration. I don’t think we played particularly well. We went down a goal and we never really found a rhythm.”
The goal energized the hosts, who took advantage of their speed and the Americans’ lack of it. The USA managed to survive the rest of the half and went into the locker room tied at 1-1.
At times, the USA looked confused and sometimes disorganized, especially in the midfield. The USA almost grabbed the lead on a nice build-up in the 44th minute as right back Michael Parkhurst crossed the ball into Dempsey, who was denied by Miller.
Shelton delivered the match to Jamaica with a 28-yard free kick that went over the U.S. wall and slipped inside the left post past Howard, who was screened.
“Just a couple of fouls at the top of the 18 and they have a couple of guys who can just smash the ball,” Cameron said. “We’ve got to put a little bit more effort into it.”
If the Americans don’t on Tuesday, they will be fighting for their World Cup qualifying lives in the final two matches in October.
Photo: Clint Dempsey scored the earliest goal — 35 seconds — in the history of U.S. World Cup qualifying. Andy Mead/YCJ
Categories: Caribbean, Jamaica, North America, U.S.A., World Cup Qualifying
Tags: Clint Dempsey, Juergen Klinsmann, Marco Rodriguez, Rodolph Austin, Tim Howard, World Cup qualifying