Three thoughts on the U.S.' stunning win in Jamaica
KINGSTON, Jamaica -- Three quick thoughts on the U.S.'s 2-1 victory against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier on Friday:
• Thanks to Brad Evans, the U.S. didn't fritter away another World Cup qualifying win on the road. In a wild final five minutes, the U.S. grabbed three big road points thanks to an injury-time goal by right back Brad Evans, one of the most unlikely goal-scoring heroes anyone could have imagined. Evans wasn't even part of the U.S. picture until early in this camp, but his star turn will go down as one of the memorable moments of this qualifying campaign. He saved the U.S. from blowing three points after Jermaine Beckford's 89th-minute equalizer had stunned the Yanks. With Jozy Altidore's 30th-minute goal, the U.S. has now scored first in all five away World Cup qualifiers under Jurgen Klinsmann in which there have been goals. That's a good thing, of course, and a change from the pre-Klinsmann era. But the U.S. had given up the equalizer in all four previous games, dropping eight of a possible 12 points from winning positions along the way. That's unacceptable, and the U.S. won't go anywhere in World Cup 2014 if it can't protect a lead. What happened here on Friday was encouraging, but only to a point. Yet again the U.S. gave up an equalizer, this one off the kind of set-piece that bedeviled the Americans in a loss here last September. But the U.S. ended up grabbing the three points, which is why this could be a watershed game in the journey toward Brazil, a journey that will be much closer to happening if the U.S. can get two more qualifying wins at home in the next 11 days.
• Graham Zusi is making it awfully tough for Landon Donovan to return the starting lineup. For the second straight game, Zusi delivered a perfect cross from the right side to Jozy Altidore for a goal. This one was almost a carbon copy of the U.S.'s first goal against Germany on Sunday, with the exception that Altidore finished Friday's goal with his head instead of a volley. Not only was it Altidore's second goal in as many games after not scoring for the U.S. since 2011, but the strike was more confirmation that Zusi is establishing a stranglehold on the right midfield position for the national team. (Zusi will have to sit out Tuesday's game, however, on a yellow card suspension.) Right midfield is the spot Landon Donovan would most likely fit into if he gets back into Klinsmann's good graces this year, but it's hard to imagine anyone displacing Zusi right now. The Kansas City man has been unflappable for the U.S., creating danger from the right while also tracking back on defense and serving as a pressure-release valve for the Yanks. Maybe Donovan should be aiming for Fabian Johnson's left midfield spot instead?
• The U.S. offense needs to break out in the next two games. The U.S. was the only team in the Hexagonal that had the disadvantage of playing three of its first four games on the road, and for the Americans to get seven points from those four games is a testament to this team's toughness in grinding out results. But the U.S. has scored only four goals in those four games, and the next, crucial step is to break out on the attacking end now that the team is coming home for qualifiers next Tuesday in Seattle (vs. Panama) and a week later in Sandy, Utah (vs. Honduras). Altidore and Dempsey, the main scoring threats, seem primed to add to their goal totals, and the heavily pro-U.S. atmospheres will no doubt help. The potential loss of Jermaine Jones to a concussion suffered on Friday will hurt, but Geoff Cameron came on in the central midfield and showed that his versatility is a huge asset to the U.S. moving forward.