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The World Cup qualifying effort is back on track

Sep 11, 2012, 11:00 PM EDT

APTOPIX Jamaica US WCup Soccer

Was it all a bunch of wasted worry? Was all the teeth gnashing, nervous tummy tumbling and nail biting all so unnecessary after all?

The United States’ World Cup qualifying effort, looking unsteady and unbalanced for a few days, is back on solid ground following a 1-0 win over Jamaica in Columbus.

Jurgen Klinsmann’s men were dominant for 65 minutes. In fact, dominant doesn’t tell the story as the United States completed a stunning 91 percent of its first half passes against a Jamaican team that sat in a surprisingly passive and defensive crouch. An otherworldly combo of post- and crossbar-rattlers (three of them in the first 45) and spectacular stuff from Reggae Boyz goaltender Dwayne Miller kept the United States out of goal before the break.

(MORE: Highlights from last night’s match)

Finally, Herculez Gomez scored unquestionably his biggest goal in a U.S. shirt – and probably the biggest U.S. goal since Landon Donovan’s late strike against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup. That was the breakthrough – and the United States is now tied atop the group once again, along with Guatemala and Jamaica.

(MORE: U.S. Man of the Match, Herculez Gomez)

The job isn’t done, but Klinsmann’s kids do have two winnable matches remaining, at Antigua and Barbuda and then back at home against Guatemala. Both games are in October.

More on those later. For now, here are 10 talking points on Tuesday’s massive win.

1.  – If U.S. fans feel a bit conflicted about this one, it’s about those final 20 minutes, when the United States lost initiative, backing off following the breakthrough goal. Some was down to Jamaica pressing higher, but the response just wasn’t as convincing as it needed to be.

2.  – Clearly not satisfied with his things from last Friday, Klinsmann made five changes in the lineup, introducing Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Graham Zusi and Jose Torres.

3.  – Check marks on the U.S. side for Geoff Cameron, Cherundolo, Fabian Johnson, Williams, Zusi and Herculez Gomez. All had convincing nights. Cameron’s work was particularly unimpeachable, and Cherundolo was near-perfect against Luton Shelton, a man much faster that the U.S. right back.

4.  – Torres, a polarizing figure among U.S. fans, did nothing like the night he needed. The U.S. left-sided midfielder wasn’t bad – but it simply wasn’t enough in a night of U.S. dominance. And isn’t this (“not enough”) always the story with Torres? Klinsmann even said as much last week. For all the U.S. possession, Torres just never manufactured the big moment in the final third. Zusi, playing Torres’ equal on the opposite side in the U.S. 4-4-2, managed to make things happen in ways Torres never did. Plus, the ball often slows down when it reaches Torres (and Jermaine Jones, too, for that matter.) Torres was removed after 65 minutes. If he was running out of chances before, where does leave him now?

5.  – Jones? What does Klinsmann see in him? Please submit answers to ProSoccerTalk HQ.

6.  – Even before Gomez’s crucial goal, his free kicks were impressive, creating threatening U.S. chances. His first-half ball into Jones (Jones!) was deadeye perfect; The U.S. midfielder whiffed on the header from top of the six-yard box when he had perfect inside position on his man. (Seriously, Jones is still more liability than asset. The only way the United States was ever going to lose was for Jones to do something stupid and red-card worthy. I said on Twitter in the first half that exact thing – and put the chances at 27 percent.)

7.  – The Cherundolo-Zusi combo was flat out devastating in the first 45. They looked like they had been playing together since YMCA soccer in grade school. Zusi had the first U.S. chance, banging one off the cross bar in the 6th minute. Meanwhile, Cherundolo was adding so much more push up the right side that just wasn’t there on Friday.

8.  – Williams was the primary holding man in a 4-4-2 and had his best night in the U.S. shirt by a long way. That shouldn’t be so surprising since that’s his position in Germany; Klinsmann, with a wealth of central midfielders has usually played Williams out wide. I think we just saw that change. If so, one of the usual central midfielders is odd man out, either Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman.

9.  – Not so sharp? Clint Dempsey did what he could, but his touch and timing are clearly not Dempsey-esque. You really have to wonder about the choice to play him all 90 minutes Tuesday, especially after he went all 90 tough minutes on Friday. That man was wiped out by the 60th minute in Columbus by the look of it.

9a.  – Bocanegra was similarly stale. Not bad, just not World Cup qualifier sharp, with a bad choice here and there while bringing the ball out of the back. And he got dragged out of position once, stranding Cameron behind him as Jamaica buzzed in dangerously.

10.  – In the last 20 minutes the United States looked nervous as schoolboys at the junior high dance. Credit for the three points, which was always the bottom line. Still, you’d like to see the American manage things better late, more convincingly nursing home the 1-goal margins. Maybe that’s a nitpick, but it’s not much of one.

  1. Trent - Sep 11, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    “Jones? What does Klinsmann see in him?”

    Thank you. I have the same question. He’s sloppy with distribution and pretty lazy. He’s a big guy who breaks up the play, but that’s not enough to warrant a starting spot. He draws a lot of fouls and complains a lot, I guess. Again, hardly a ringing endorsement.

  2. @C_Tobin - Sep 11, 2012 at 11:31 PM

    I’m glad someone in the national media has started questioning Jones regular inclusion in the lineup. Jones has become the 2014 cycle Bornstein to me. Someone I have no idea from watching the game as to why he continues to get chances.

    Even in the dominant first half, Jones was a serial ball stopper. He passed backwards almost exclusively and when he did go lateral or “gasp” forward, he took a few touches and generally slowed the flow that was developing.

  3. KnowThyEnemies - Sep 12, 2012 at 12:35 AM

    Jones has his moments – he bossed the opposition (can’t remember who) when he participated in January’s camp cupcake friendly, and played well against Scotland as well. I think he’s best when he’s not tasked with running the USA offense – ie, when he’s paired with Bradley, and can focus more on defense and less on transitioning and getting forward.

    Regardless, Williams looked like a big improvement over Jones, Beckerman and Edu. Jones and Edu give the ball away on offense far too easily; Beckerman is better but is too slow on defense. Williams seems to combine the good qualities of all three – hope to see him again at CDM in the final two WCQ matches.

  4. dfstell - Sep 12, 2012 at 6:38 AM

    I know I’m in the minority, but Jones doesn’t bother me that much. I can see what you mean that he has a nasty habit of doing these long dribbling runs forward. And he does have this out-of-control look sometimes where I worry he’ll get a yellow…. He gives it away some, but he also gets it back pretty well.

    But….He’s the only American midfielder who can win a lot of headers in the middle of the field. He gets all of those and turns them our way. He has more athletic ability that anyone else in our midfield and that allows him to get back and cover himself when he does get too far forward. He is able to pick out a really nice ball from time to time (that first ball out to Cherundolo on the wing was great….it was in like the 2nd minute). And, I do see his temper, but he just looks like a guy who is going to play hard until the refs give him a yellow. I don’t see him going in studs up or anything that would cause a red. People talk about his temper and the “red mist” he sees and it sounds like he’s a professional wrestler or something. The only downside I see is that you probably want to get him out of there if he does pick up a yellow, so you need to save a sub for him.

    And, I kinda like that we have someone who will do the rolling on the ground in horrible pain crap. I don’t personally like that tactic, but everyone else in the region plays that game and it is naive for us to ignore it. And, he’s the only guy I sometimes see get edgy when the game takes a nastier turn.

    I’m not saying I want to be buried with pictures of Jones, but I think he gets a little too much ire and I think he has his uses as a #6.

  5. jucam1 - Sep 12, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    As a fan of the US, I still wonder why this matters, I’ve been watching Conmembol Nd EUFA qualifying and all I can see is that this team won’t won a single game in qualifying stages… To only score one goal against Jamaica at HOME only shows ho awful this team is….

  6. mkbryant3 - Sep 12, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    dfstell:
    you read my mind. I feel almost exactly the same way. There were times in the second half when Jones just willed himself the ball in the tackle. Very strong. I feel we need that strong presence in the midfield, especially with Bradley out. I have seen him take the opportunistic late game fall and roll to waste time. Hey, I’m not the biggest fan of that, but it’s part of the game, especially in our region. Only thing is that the ref implored him to get back up, when if the roles were reversed (a Jamaican on the floor in The Office), I’m not sure if the ref would have acted the same way.

    jucam1:
    I think you need to get a thicker skin and mature along with the US soccer scene’s maturation. Leander is a great writer and not always a homer, who gives critical thought and feedback to our program. I, for one, welcome the more critical eye. Yeah, we scored one goal, but look at how many they had behind the ball. Hard to break down ten men in their defensive third.

  7. phillyphan83 - Sep 12, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    Sorry, I’m late to the party but why is Landon Donovan not on the roster?

    • joeyt360 - Sep 12, 2012 at 4:51 PM

      Hurt.

  8. phillyphan83 - Sep 12, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    And even more importantly Jozy Altidore? After the embarrassment of not qualifying for the Olympics, why wouldn’t we field our best in the qualifiers for the most important soccer tournament in the world, especially when were nt leading our group and just got beaten by Jamaica 5 days prior? I’m certainly not impressed by Klinsmann.

    • joeyt360 - Sep 12, 2012 at 4:52 PM

      The problem from the away leg was possession in the midfield, and Altidore does little to address that.

  9. phillyphan83 - Sep 12, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    thanks joey

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