By Jacob Klinger
The United States' 1-0 win over Jamaica ended with the ball in the same place it spent most of the 90 minutes. Just outside the Jamaican 18-yard box.
The U.S played its most perfect hour of soccer in the Jurgen Klinsmann era right up through Herculez Gomez's 55th-minute free kick goal. After the hour of near perfection that saw the U.S. hit the post on three separate occasions, American pressure on the ball dropped off significantly. At times the spacing between the defensive and midfield lines was overly-inviting toward the Jamaicans. The U.S. seemed caught between the ideas of seeing the game out with the ball at its collective feet, and playing for counterattacking second goal.
Ultimately, though, Klinsmann's squad dominated the key areas of the field. Anything less than three points for the hosts certainly would have been unjust.
The warning shots were fired within moments of kickoff. Steve Cherundolo and Graham Zusi bombarded the Jamaican defense with crosses from the right flank. If there were any doubts regarding Zusi's ability to contribute at the international level they are now dispelled. His more-than willing sixth minute signalled not just his lack of nerves in the team's most important match since the Gold Cup final. Zusi's attempt was a tangible call to arms for an American team that displayed hardly any hesitance within 25 yard of the Jamaican goal.
Given a start in his natural holding midfield role for the first time under Klinsmann, Danny Williams combined with Jermaine Jones to form an air-tight shield in front of Carlos Bocanegra and Geoff Cameron. Their tireless defensive pressure was embodied in the 26th minute when Jones gleefully hammered a Jamaican midfielder into the unforgiving mass that was Danny Williams. The foul was correctly called, but the Jones and Williams' points was made too. Jamaica was to find no quarter in central midfield.
Clint Dempsey was far from his best with ragged touches and a lack of high-gear speed. His insistence on dropping into midfield did allow the Jamaican back line to compress the game from time to time, but when he picked the ball up atop the attacking third he distributed at will. Though the Tottenham signee didn't shoot as often as he might have, his mere presence on the ball engendered respect from Jamaica as well as space on the wings.
It was his prowess on the ball that drew Gomez's match-deciding 55th-minute free kick.
Jose Francisco Torres and Fabian Johnson were not nearly as dominant as Cherundolo and Zusi. Yet the combination of Johnson's unrelenting pace and Torres' willingness to cycle the ball through midfield kept Jamaica off-balance. The left side played more narrow than necessary, but Torres' selection in the first XI almost guaranteed an inverted flank. Johnson's preference for his right foot furthered this inversion just as his pace in tracking back ensured that moments of hesitance from Torres went largely unpunished.
The way in which the U.S. let Jamaica back into the game after Gomez's was truly puzzling. The upbeat posession play of the first 60 minutes gave way to hesitance tempered by the Americans' enduring athletic ability. Jamaica is surely among the most athletic teams Klinsmann's squad will ever face. And yet, it was his charges winning the vast majority of headers, 50-50 balls and any other contests of raw athleticism.
Even 33-year-old Steve Cherundolo outran Luton Shelton to a corner ball in the 65th minute.
If not for some overhit diagonals the U.S. likely would have added to its lead. Maurice Edu's late through ball to Danny Williams took him out of step in what was a direct path to the goal, but the livewire midfielder still managed a dangerous cross. It was hacked away by the Jamaican defense. And before the ball could be brought back into play, Jose Pineda blew the whistle on the most deserved and needed points the U.S has earned under Klinsmann.
Tim Howard, 8 - Kept out Jamaica's best effort, a Rodolph Austin drive from distance and commanded his back line well. Awkwardly flapped at a cross, conceding a corner midway through the second half. Otherwise solid per usual.
Fabian Johnson, 7.5 - Provided much-needed width, power and pace. His insistence on cutting onto his right foot stifled a few attacks, but he shut down his flank for 90 minutes. That's the main job.
Carlos Bocanegra, 7 - Not his best performance, but the captain showed why he wears the armband. Never losing composure in either box he kept Geoff Cameron calm when he was needed most.
Geoff Cameron, 6.5 - Only marked down for one errant pass he battled reasonably well in the air all night. One could see his nerves late on, but he was all bend and no break.
Cherundolo, 9.5 - Dominated every facet of the game. Was the victim of some odd offside calls in the Jamaican half. "Ready, Set, America's" man of the match hands down.
Jermaine Jones, 7 - Suffocated Jamaica's early attempts at offense. Tried to do a bit too much at times though he coordinated his runs with Williams very efficiently. Also a foul magnet.
Danny Williams, 8.5 - Showed exactly why he's a central midfielder. His range is incredible and his passing missed only a few beats. Put on his best ever wing performance after Edu came on.
Jose Francisco Torres, 6 - Better than his last outing, Torres seems better suited to games against parked buses. Still got caught in posession too much. His substitution was timely.
Dempsey, 7 - His ability to play two full 90s in four days is very impressive. Fulham's youth teams should be proud. Rightfully struck fear in the hearts of his opponents despite some sloppiness. Faces made during argument with Ryan Johsnon were hilarious. Taylor Twellman said it best, he backs down to no one.
Zusi, 8 - Raised eyebrows by starting, facelifted with his play. Crosses were dangerous, combination play was slick and he did not look slow at all against a very fast team.
Herculez Gomez, 7.5 - Forced to play with his back to goal a little too much, but his movement left little to be desired. His free kicks were dangerous throughout. Klinsmann should probably thank him for the goal too.
Brek Shea, 6 - Did the job on defense. Game never really opened up for him. The threat of his speed alone justified his inclusion.
Maurice Edu, 4 - Too sloppy for a man brought on to close out the game. His first touch was a turnover and his last slowed a counter. His own athleticism saved him.
Jozy Altidore, NR - 10 minutes really wasn't enough. If he and Gomez ever figure each other out though, look out.
HAVE YOUR SAY ... How'd you rate the team? Is the ship trult righted or will the U.S. struggle in its final two semifinal round games? Speak! In the Facebook comments section below.
Jacob Klinger is a contributing writer to Soccer 365 where his column "Ready, Set, America" appears regularly. He also writes for No Short Corners and the Daily Orange. Jacob's love for the game goes back as far as he can remember, but was truly christened during the United States' cardiac qualifying campaign for Korea/Japan 2002. Between classes and columns, he still plays. You can follow him on Twitter @MrJacobK or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The U.S. is wearing these classy looking jerseys when playing in front of the home fans.
Look great while cheering on the Toros in this cool FC Dallas tee from adidas.
Take your game to the next level with the adidas Predator LZ TRX.
The U.S. has highs hopes with Klinsmann in charge of the team. Support the team.
The San Jose Earthquakes are off to a great start in 2012.
The Seattle Sounders have one of the most popular MLS soccer jerseys. Get in the Gear.
Have you been capped for the U.S. national team? Now is your chance.
Control and passing pace are key to winning games. This boot delivers both.
Get the official MLS match ball. MLS match balls available at many price points.
With a stable full of DP's, the Galaxy are sure to be fighting for MLS silver.