Altidore, Zusi pace U.S. in qualifying win over Jamaica
Not all three points are created equally, but in the end, they all contribute to the same cause.
When looking back on the USA's 2014 World Cup qualifying run, Friday's 2-1 victory over Jamaica will blend together with the rest of the results, as ultimately just getting to Brazil is what will have mattered (assuming the quest is completed). But the game itself was about plenty more. The USA's victory was hardly a clinic in decision making, late-game defending or all-around passing, but the Americans displayed the mental fortitude to snatch a clutch, late winner after conceding a demoralizing equalizer and won a qualifier in a place it had never managed to do so before.
Jurgen Klinsmann turned to the same lineup for consecutive games for the first time in his tenure as U.S. manager, and his team came out with plenty of confidence and energy in hostile conditions, taking the lead through Jozy Altidore's second goal in as many games. Sloppy set-piece marking almost let the result slip away late until unlikely hero Brad Evans validated Klinsmann's faith in him with a storybook stoppage-time goal that lifted the USA to seven points through four games in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. With six matches remaining -- four of which come on U.S. soil -- and tough road games against Honduras and Mexico already in the rear-view mirror, things are certainly looking favorable for the USA, even if Friday's match was not the most textbook way about collecting three points. Here are player ratings from the match (as always, on a scale of 0-10):
GK, Tim Howard, 6 - Howard came up with a big save off a shot from distance in the first half prior to the USA's goal that kept the game scoreless and prevented it from taking an entirely different course. Aside from a shot of the post, Jamaica hardly threatened him after that, though he was left flat-footed on the late free kick off which Jermaine Beckford scored to tie up the game.
D, Brad Evans, 6.5 - This is starting to become the stuff of legends. In his second straight game starting at right back position he was unaccustomed to on the international level, Evans was not nearly as defensively sound or as effective in moving the ball upfield as he was against Germany, but he delivered the decisive moment of the night with his stoppage-time goal. Evans latched onto a pass from Michael Bradley, had time to turn and fire from close range and did not miss his mark. He rolls into Seattle, where he plays his club ball for the Sounders, as a hero.
D, Omar Gonzalez, 5.5 - Gonzalez's distribution still leaves plenty to be desired (as does his penchant for hitting the long ball to nobody in particular), and he was beaten over the top for a chance that Jamaica's Rodolph Austin hit off the post. The LA Galaxy anchor was a clearance machine, though, and he came up with a few vital stops -- none bigger than his sliding challenge in a 1-v-1 situation late in the game -- to salvage his night and play a big role in the victory.
D, Matt Besler, 6 - Besler turned in a steady 90 minutes as he continues to make his case to be a starter for the long haul. The Sporting Kansas City man rarely took a wrong step, and in the one major instance which he did, he had the wherewithal to recover, catch Beckford behind him and use enough physicality to bump the Jamaican forward off the ball without behind penalized. Another solid showing.
D, DaMarcus Beasley, 6 - Beasley was challenged repeatedly by Jamaica's speedster Jermaine Johnson, and even though he was beaten on a couple of occasions, none of them translated into goals or even serious attempts that troubled Howard. The veteran, who was just transfer listed by Puebla, ran up and down the left flank all night and maintained the endurance to carry on full throttle until the end. Until Klinsmann is given reason to look elsewhere, Beasley remains a sound option at the position.
M, Graham Zusi, 7.5 - Zusi's ability to free himself and then send a pinpoint ball into the box for Jozy Altidore's goal was the USA's signature attacking moment of the game and further entrenched him at the right wing position. Zusi's game was about way more than that play too, as he showed the work rate to track up and down the flank to both help out defensively and maintain possession in the attacking half. Zusi's night soured toward the end, with his foul from behind not only granting Jamaica the free kick off which it scored the equalizer but also netting him a yellow card that results in a one-game suspension for card accumulation. Even so, he played an integral role in a massive victory.
M, Michael Bradley, 6.5 - Bradley hit the post in the early stages off a volley attempt that nearly provided a dream start. Not surprisingly, Bradley connected for the most passes by a U.S. player by a large margin, and he remains the fulcrum of the midfield. His decision making was called into question on one occasion in the second half when he had options on a U.S. breakaway to his left and right but elected to have a go for a low-percentage, low shot from distance. He came through off the late short corner with the assist to Evans though, remaining patient and picking out the right pass when it mattered.
M, Jermaine Jones, 5.5 - Jones had turned in an active, mostly clean shift in central midfield, passing well and looking to find the ball that unlocked the Jamaican defense on multiple occasions. His night came to an abrupt halt with a collision off a corner kick that left him in a heap on the ground for some time. According to U.S. Soccer, Jones was diagnosed with a concussion, meaning that his availability for the upcoming two matches is up in the air and could give Klinsmann a big void in his midfield.
M, Fabian Johnson, 5 - Looked to be involved a bit more in the early going than he was as his stretch on the field waned, and he was eventually taken off in favor of Edgar Castillo in the 76th minute. Aside from one opportunity on goal in the first half, Johnson did not do as much as expected in terms of linking up with his other attacking teammates, and perhaps the hamstring injury that forced him off at halftime against Germany limited his effectiveness. Johnson also had one of the more dubious moments of the night, when he dummied a ball from Altidore at the top corner of the box, expecting it to reach Bradley. Instead, it didn't and sparked a Jamaica counter. Had Johnson just made the simple play to receive the pass, he would have had an opportunity to carry deeper into the area and have a go at goal.
M, Clint Dempsey, 5.5 - Dempsey did not work the same magic that he did against Germany, as the captain failed to get on the scoresheet despite a header sandwiched in between two defenders that nearly found its way to the top corner in the second half. Dempsey still provided his usual grit and work rate while staying eager around the ball and looking to get involved. It marked the first time since October that the USA won in a game in which Dempsey did not score (a span of four victories and 10 games total).
F, Jozy Altidore, 7 - Altidore scored again, finding space in between the two central defenders to latch onto service from Zusi for the second consecutive game. Altidore might have had an earlier goal, too, had a close offside decision gone his way. With his confidence appearing to gradually grow, Altidore's decision making with his back to the goal in the middle third of the field was stellar, turning to hold-up play to get his teammates involved and allow for some U.S. build-up.
M, Geoff Cameron, 6 - The versatile Cameron was called upon to replace Jones in central midfield, as Klinsmann elected not to reshuffle his whole lineup in order to fit Cameron in across the back line. In instances like these, Cameron's ability to play multiple positions increases his value tremendously, and he covered a bunch of ground while distributing extremely well. Cameron won't bring nearly as much bite or strength as Jones, but his athleticism and fresh legs were assets in a tough spot for his 31 minutes on the field.
M, Edgar Castillo, 5 - Castillo came on as a midfield substitute for Johnson, and his first moments on the field he helped Beasley defend by the sideline and won possession. His decision making going forward was suspect, as he opted try and chip the goalkeeper from some distance instead of looking for Altidore, a more natural goalscorer, with the U.S. on a breakout. Certainly a step in the right direction after his horror show against Germany off the bench.
F, Eddie Johnson, 4.5 - Came on for the final seven minutes (plus stoppage time) for Altidore to provide fresh legs and energy up top with the USA trying to kill off the game. While he was able to do that to an extent, he was in position to defend Jamaica's late free kick and failed to keep his mark on Beckford, who may have been in an offside position on the play but did not have the whistle go against him.