Evans' first international goal saves U.S. in road victory over Jamaica.
By Robert Wagman
(Saturday, June 8, 2013) -- There was not a lot of work done last night at “The Office,” as Jamaica’s National Stadium in Independence Park is widely known. In a generally dull CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Final-Round match in Kingston, the United States men came away with the three points in the standings, thanks to a Brad Evans first international goal two minutes into stoppage time in front of a subdued and well less than capacity crowd.
The Americans were lucky to escape with three points. Three minutes before Evans’ strike, the U.S. defense broke down and allowed Jamaica to equalize on Jermaine Beckford’s header in the penalty area.
Without Evans’ heroics, the U.S. would have been fourth in the final 10-match hexagonal. Instead, the Americans (2-1-1) are in a three-way tie for first place with Costa Rica (2-1-1), which is one better in goal differential and Mexico (1-0-4), which has played an extra game. Panama (1-0-3) is a point back after hosting a 0-0 draw with Mexico.
Costa Rica edged visiting Honduras 1-0, dropping the Hondurans (1-2-1) to four points with Jamaica bringing up the rear at at 0-3-2 with two points.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann started the same 11 that opened against Germany on Sunday. It featured three defenders plus normal midfielder Evans with duties on the right side of defense --- effectively making him the right-side defender.
Both teams opened with frenetic pace for the first 15 minutes, but then things noticeably settled down. The U.S. did continue to push and on the half hour duplicated its first goal against Germany. Midfielder Graham Zusi crossed the ball to the right side for unmarked striker Jozy Altidore in the middle of the box. This time, he used his head to put the Americans up 1-0.
For the final 10 minutes of the first half, the Reggae Boyz came alive and surged forward into the U.S. end. Midfielder Rodolph Austin hit the post with a blistering shot, but generally, some strong work from defensive midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones kept the Boyz at bay.
The second half was a dreary affair for the first 38 minutes. The Americans seemed content to protect its one-goal lead and Jamaica seemed resigned to allowing that. Jamaica’s speed caused problems to the U.S. wide defenders, but not much happened at either end until the U.S. gave away a silly foul in the 88th minute.
Still, the U.S. seemed in good shape with thee free kick 45 yards up the left sideline. Austin, Jaimaca’s best player on the night, launched the ball into the center of the U.S. box. General pandemonium ensued. American goalkeeper Tim Howard did not know whether to come off his line to take the ball – which he should have -- and he stood transfixed. The center of the U.S. defense let Beckford go unmarked and he headed the ball seven yards into the right side of the net past a flat-footed Howard to draw Jamaica level at 1-1.
As the match moved into stoppage time, Bradley took over. Jamaica gave up a corner kick. Bradley played it to Zusi, who returned a short pass to Bradley, who carried past a defender to it just outside the left perimeter of the box. With the U.S. overloading the box, Bradley fed Evans alone a yard from the corner of the six-yard box. With his back to the goal, Evans turned right and lofted a right-footer past keeper Donovan Ricketts into the right side of the net to give the Americans an all-important victory.
The U.S. lost Jones, a key figure, in the 56th minute after he and Jamaica midfielder Daniel Gordon went up for a ball. Jones was hit square in the head with an elbow and went down. Clearly woozy, Jones was escorted to the locker-room and was diagnosed with a concussion, which will almost certainly rule him out of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama at CenturyLink Field in Seattle.
“What we need to do better is once we get in the lead, we have to continue playing the same way," Klinsmann said. “Here and there, we became too hectic instead of being more confident. Our back-line played too many balls straight up to Jozy. . . We (told the team) to play it through midfield, through Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. That's what they're good at. And suddenly, after leading by a goal, we forgot about that."
Jamaica manager Theodore (Tappa) Whitmore was missing three key players. Midfielder Jobi McAnuff was not available due to the birth of a child, while striker Omar Cummings and midfielder Dane Richards were out injured.
The U.S. is in a solid position with the next two matches at home – Panama Tuseday, then against Honduras June 18 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. If the Americans can win those two games, they would probably be within a victory in the final four outings a clinching a berth in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The top three CONCACAF finishers qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place nation will face New Zealand, the Oceania champion, in a two-match series for a fourth berth.
The U.S. will have to make lineup changes. Zusi will miss the Panama match with a yellow-cards suspension, while Jones will be difficult to replace.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5: Made a good punch out of his box in the first half and had good command of his box, while organizing his defense, but he was first timid, then failed to move on the Jamaica goal, which could have coast the U.S. two points. Otherwise, he really did not have much to do.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Again, he played good offense, but had some problems on defense. He gets beaten to the outside too often in one-on-one situations, but he held his own against the speedy Jermaine Johnson in an overall decent performance.
Defender Matt Besler - 6: The better of the two U.S. central defenders. He was steady and overall put in a fine performance.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 5: Inconsistent is probably the best way to describe his performance. He was terrific at times, breaking up plays and making accurate outlet passes, but then he was out of position or making mistakes. He was partially at fault on Jamaica’s goal.
Defender Brad Evans - 6.5: A midfielder playing out of position, he had some defensive problems, but was not hurt by them. Then, he scored the U.S. winner from inside the Jamaican box on the left side with a well taken shot.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 6.5: He does what he does very well, bringing the ball forward and crossing it. He plays solid defense and guards his sideline, but he is not otherwise an offensive threat and will clearly be replaced by Landon Donovan when he and Klinsmann finish their little dance.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 5: Coming off an hamstring injury, it’s still not clear how fit he is. His main contributions were defensive, tracking back to help Beasley. He did not add much to the attack, which was something of a disappointment.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 7.5: He was steady defensively, then took over the team after Jamaica tied the score. With his play on the winning goal and hitting the post with a first-half blast, he showed he can be an offensive threat.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 7: He was going very well, dominating the midfield when he took the elbow to the head and went down and out.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 4: It says on the score sheet he played the full 90 minutes, but one might be forgiven to believe he wasn’t out there. For the most part, he simply wasn’t involved. He was closely marked and seemed content to glide around the midfield, doing little on attack and little more defensively. He simply looks tired.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 7: There was more to his performance than scoring his second goal in two matches. He worked tirelessly, often helping out defensively. A complete effort.
Midfielder Geoff Cameron (59th minute for Jones) - 5.5: He continues to be thrust into situations where he is forced to play out of position. Tonight, it was coming in for the injured Jones in the midfield and he did an OK job.
Defender Edgar Castillo (76th minute for Johnson) - 5: A defender put into the left side of the midfield, he did better defensively than in his short stint against Germany, but he tried to chip over Ricketts when he had Altidore wide open in front. He is not finding his best role yet.
Forward Eddie Johnson (83rd minute for Altidore) - 5: Brought in to help kill off the match, he lost his mark in a crowded box on the Jamaican goal. He still has not had a chance to show off his offensive skills over an extended appearance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Michael Bradley.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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