Tonight as I sat down at the table that the waitress had shown to my friend I looked around and was a bit surprised. I did not see a single person decked out in US Soccer gear like we were. Not even USA gear for that matter; on 9/11 no less. I smirked, thinking to myself that there are so many people who don’t know what they’re missing.
A crucial World Cup Qualifier, here at home, against a side that stole 3 massive points right from under our noses last Friday. Why would you miss that? I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t, because the USA came to play.
Right from the start the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) found their stride. The passes were connecting and no one was staying on the ball too long. Not even Jermaine Jones, who has a history of doing such. Only the goals would not come. Three times the ball hit the post. Countless shots on goal were blocked, parried away or skied over. For once, I couldn’t remember the number of times I grabbed the edge of my seat or threw my hands in the air ready to shout ‘Goal!’. It felt good.
On this special night, with it being the 11th anniversary of 9/11, the USMNT came to this game confident and ready to go. The atmosphere was electric and it showed in the movement and passing for the USA. Everything just seemed to click.
Even Jurgen Klinsmann offered something special: changes to his starting lineup.
Instead of playing the trio of Jones, Maurice Edu and Kyle Beckerman; Klinsmann went with a 4-1-3-2 formation that placed Danny Williams in his natural position in front of the back line, and Herculez Gomez and Clint Dempsey up top. Although Jose Torres did not get to play in his natural position in the middle-he was instead placed on the wing-these changes worked wonders.
We saw fluid passing all around the pitch, but I was especially impressed with the play on the wings. The partnership of Steve Cherundolo and Graham Zusi on the right was particularly inspiring. They combined well and seemed to understand one another, allowing the US to stretch the play and create chances. Granted, Jamaica did not seem keen on coming out of its shell to challenge the US, but Zusi kept finding pockets of space everywhere. This was especially key in the second half when, after Gomez scored on a beautiful set piece in the 55th minute, the US seemed to bunker down a bit and take their foot off the pedal. Zusi continued to perform until Klinsmann subbed him off. We can expect to see him in October.
Once the United States started to bunker down after scoring (something we saw under Bob Bradley – opposite of what we believe Klinsmann wants to do) there were some nervy moments. Credit must be given to the captain Carlos Bocanegra, who helped to calm things down in the back with a nervous Geoff Cameron. Danny Williams had an outstanding game in the center defensive position. It’s easy to see why he’s such a talented prospect. (I was both happy and surprised to see JK start him there. It needed to happen.) When he was switched to the wing, he did very well to help the US keep possession and cause problems for Jamaica. In the past, that hasn’t been the case. Perhaps progress is being made.
It took the USA ten minutes or so to once again find their groove after the Gomez goal and several substitutions. When Jamaica did venture out, their chances were broken with ease. Jermaine Jones worked very hard in a sort of center attacking midfield role and often tracked back to help break up play. While he did perform admirably and the USA saw the game out, he is not the solution there.
The USMNT returns in October to play the last two games of the initial round of qualifiers. The first is away to Antigua and Barbuda; while the second and final match is home against Guatemala in Kansas City. There are a few changes that would be wise for Klinsmann to consider. The first is bringing in some sort of natural center attacking midfielder, a.k.a. Mix Diskerud. Whether he starts is an entirely different story, but at least have the option around-especially if Donovan or Bradley are unavailable. Jones just doesn’t cut it and an attacking minded midfielder would do wonders for this team. Mix has already proven that he’s ready, and he’s doing well for Rosenborg in Norway right now. Second, there is no need to bring four defensive midfielders. Klinsmann needs to sort this out and make the appropriate cuts to clear space for other players. Kyle Beckerman quickly comes to mind. Third, if you are going to play a 4-1-3-2 (even if not), the fact remains that being able to stretch the game out wide is a key component to winning. That was clearly evident tonight. As such, players whose natural position is on the wing need to be brought into the squad. Whether that’s Chris Pontius (DC United/MLS), Josh Gatt (Molde/Norway) or Joe Gyau (St. Pauli/Germany) somebody must be brought in to better fit that formation. We cannot be afraid to say goodbye to several US stalwarts in order to make this happen if necessary – which seems to be a reasonable hypothesis as to why it hasn’t.
The United States isn’t out of the woods yet, but tonight was a Herculean effort and a major step towards advancement in qualification. October will be thrilling. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll see more USMNT fans then.