The United States national team charter landed in Jamaica this afternoon. Now, if you find yourself thinking about a World Cup qualifying trip into Reggae Boyz land, and you get that distinct feeling that we’ve been here before, and recently so … well, right you are!
It was just last September when Clint Dempsey gave the Americans an early, early lead. “USA! … USA!”
But the rest of the match unfolded far less favorably, with the Jamaicans putting their foot on the game. A couple of big mistakes led to free kicks and … well, a 2-1 loss put Jurgen Klinsmann’s team into a position of needing to win its home match a few days later to avoid real trouble in the semifinal round.
The narrative that tumbled out of that one was of a flagging attack, poor possession, lack of width and general lack of hard-trying spirit. And there was truth in all of that.
But there was essentially one problem that night at The Office (what the locals call the National Stadium): The unwise choice by a couple of American players to get overly aggressive in bad spots, leading to dangerous free kicks.
That’s really about it.
Road matches on hard or bumpy fields against motivated CONCACAF opposition will rarely be lovely affairs. If a match on a well-manicured pitch between two rivals bent on playing soccer is a stylistic boxing match of old, then these CONCACAF clashes away from home are close-quarter, no-rules brawls, and they are not pretty.
So usually a goal or two is plenty to get a result. Yes, what the United States looks for in a place like Jamaica is a “result.” Like it or not, ties are good enough on the road in World Cup qualifying. Wins are an appreciated bonus.
That night last September, the fouls in bad spots were killers. Jamaica created very little otherwise; don’t give up those silly free kicks, and the United States would probably have skipped out of The Office with a point, or perhaps even all three.
The match simply needed to be managed out better, and in conversations since then you can almost feel the frustration coming off Klinsmann’s breath as he talks about those free kicks.