Gomez free kick is enough to send improved U.S. past Jamaica for crucial World Cup qualifying win.
By Robert Wagman
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Tuesday, September 11, 2012) -- The United States men, knowing less than a victory would put their quest to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in jeopardy, edged Jamaica 1-0 behind a second-half goal by striker Herculez Gomez before 23,881 who watched the CONCACAF Semifinal Round Group A World Cup Qualifier tonight at soldout Columbus Crew Stadium.
Gomez drilled his free kick into the right side of the net. Jamaica goalkeeper Dwayne Miller, who made two stunning saves in the first half, got to the shot, but batted it into the corner of his net. The tally came on one of only two shots on frame the U.S. managed in the match to one for Jamaica.
The U.S., which lost 2-1 at Jamaica on Friday night, is now tied for first place in Group A with Guatemala and Jamaica at 2-1-1 with seven points and two matches remaining. The U.S. and Guatemala have plus-two goal differential, while Jamaica is plus-one. In tonight's other game, Guatemala defeated Antigua and Barbuda, which fell to 0-3-1 with one point.
The top two finishers advance to the six-nation final round of qualifying.
The match was not really as close as the final score might indicate. The Americans absolutely dominated the first half and while the second 45 minutes was a bit tighter, Jamaica only really threatened one time when Steve Cherundolo headed a ball off his goal-line. If the U.S. had been a bit more fortunate and finished better, it could have, and should have, won by a much wider margin.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann made wholesale changes from the team that lost four days ago in Kingston. As expected, he inserted veterans Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo on the back-line -- defender Clarence Goodson was suspended for two yellow cards -- but the biggest shift came in the midfield where Danny Williams, José Torres and Graham Zusi got the call. Clint Dempsey played in his usual withdrawn striker position. Officially, the U.S. was playing a 4-1-3-2, but in reality it was more a 4-1-4-1 with Gomez alone up top.
Equally important, Klinsmann played Williams as what the Americans call a true "number six," almost a sweeper playing in front of the four defenders. Jermaine Jones played in front of Williams, alternating with him from time to time. It was very effective.
For a second straight outing, the U.S. played without stalwart midfielders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, both out with upper-leg injuries.
Perhaps for the first time in his tenure, the U.S. played the way Klinsmann wants them to play: with width, holding possession, short passes and constantly pushing forward. In the midfield, Williams played in the center with Graham Zusi playing wide right and Torres on the left flank. The outside backs, Cherundolo and Fabian Johnson, overlapped often.
The U.S. controlled the first half absolutely, taking eight shots to none for the Reggae Boyz, and it was only a combination of two acrobatic saves by Miller and three shots caroming off the woodwork that prevented the Americans from taking a multiple-goal lead into the locker-room at the interval.
Jamaica came out for the second half pushing hard and for the first three minutes controlled the run of play for the only time all evening. The U.S. regained control and, while offensively it was not as threatening as in the first half, it would only have been bad luck had the U.S. given up a goal.
"We're back on track," Klinsmann said. "It was important tonight that (the U.S.) keep pushing. You have to stay positive. (The Americans) really deserved those three points."
If the U.S. is to display the kind of attack that Klinsmann wants, it needs a wide field and a smooth playing surface for the short pass controlling the offense. The Americans had that tonight at Crew Stadium, while they didn't at chewed-up National Stadium in Kingston on Friday. It clearly made a difference.
"The field down there (in Kingston) was so bumpy you couldn't control the ball in short passes. It changed our shape and how we played the ball," Klinsmann said. "Tonight, the field was wonderful and we could play the game we wanted."
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.5: Did not have much to, do but cleared several balls out of his area and made one nice save near the end.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6: He had a strong two-way game, going forward often, but still able to get back on defense.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: He was rock solid in the middle of defense. Made several stops, breaking up Jamaican thrusts before they became dangerous.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 7.5: Had just an outstanding match, making defensive play after defensive play, completely shutting down Luton Shelton while repeatedly getting forward to deliver well-measured crosses.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: Ranged to both sides, making clearances and winning the air battle.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 6: Excelled in his role as a sweeper and, at times, he got forward and made intelligent passes, setting up teammates.
Midfielder José Torres - 5: He had an up-and-down performance. At time he was solid on the wing, but at other times, he seemed to not be able to connect his passes.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5.5: He had sufficient help to be able to play within himself and the result was a strong outing. Played solidly on defense and linked well with those ahead of him.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 4.5: In an uneven performance, four times in the first 22 minutes, he missed shots he should have finished or shot when he had teammates wide open in front of the net. At other times, his hustle made things happen. He needs to show greater consistency.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 5: Was in and out all night. Made two good clearances of corner kicks, dropping back to man the a post. Maybe his biggest contribution was getting fouled ahead of the free-kick goal.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 6.5: A solid match all the way and his free kick handcuffed the previously sensational Miller to account for the only goal.
Midfielder Brek Shea (67th minute for Torres) - 5: Was never able to inject himself into the match. He ran the wing well, but contributed little.
Midfielder Maurice Edu (71st minute for Zusi) - 5.5: He went into the middle in front of the defensive line and did fine over the final minutes, using fresh legs to make plays.
Forward Jozy Altidore (80th minute for Gomez) - 4.5: A odd performance. He obviously wanted to make something happen, but more often than not, he failed and then reacted almost petulantly.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Steve Cherundolo.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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