For a player thrown into a pretty unfair situation, Clint Dempsey acquitted himself quite well on Friday. He scored a goal in the first minute, nearly added another before half, and was cast into the attack’s key role as the United States chased an equalizer. For a man few expected to start in Kingston, that’s a lot of shoulder.
And with the U.S. coming off their first loss to Jamaica, you can’t help but think the need to use Dempsey tells us a lot about the men’s national team. The final round of qualifying (“the hex”) is still three matches away, and already the States are in a position where Dempsey was forced into playing. Part of that was the absence of Landon Donovan. Part of it may have also been missing Michael Bradley. But part of it was the confluence of a surprisingly thin squad with a more competitive CONCACAF.
In the face of that competition, the United States would have ideally had a Plan B, but without Donovan, who was going to play in the space behind the strikers besides Dempsey? Graham Zusi? Joe Corona? There weren’t a lot of options on the bench. Some noted Anderlecht’s Sacha Kljestan should have been called into the squad, but his history with the national team makes him more project than solution. If you’re Jurgen Klinsmann and you’re trying to devise a plan to beat Jamaica, is there one that doesn’t involve rolling the dice with Clint Dempsey?
The result will be disturbing to many fans, but given some of the quality Jamaica has produced, it’s remarkable the Reggae Boyz haven’t beaten the U.S. before. As we watched Jamaica impress during the 2011 Gold Cup, you wondered how this country hasn’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998. Clearly a talented team, Jamaica’s winless record against the States was more statistical anomaly (or mark of inexperience) than descriptor of the gap between the teams.
What’s more disturbing than losing to Jamaica is how it happened. The match didn’t play out like an upset – a team using two direct kicks to turn a game on its head. Those free kicks made the scoreline an accurate a reflection of play. Aside from two, maybe three threats, the United States were impotent, spending more of the night chasing the ball than playing with it. The final 89 minutes played out in a way that made the States’ first minute goal seem aberrational.
And the U.S. had to use Dempsey to try and avoid a loss. That didn’t happen, leaving the fans asking what will be different when the sides move to Columbus on Tuesday. Is there a Plan B? Because based on Klinsmann’s selections on Friday, it doesn’t seem this U.S. squad has many options.