Finally, a little sunshine is gathering around the Gold Cup effort for coach Bob Bradley and his national team.
They aren't completely out of the woods in what was quickly devolving into a summer of high discontent. And the United States still has plenty of work ahead before a possible tournament championship showdown against Mexico -- which is pretty much what everyone expected before the Americans began stumbling around in group stage.
But an afternoon of partial vindication has left Bradley and his side a lot closer today than yesterday to summer redemption following a
A pretty shaky 68th-minute red card for Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor abetted Sunday's result; there may have been some contact as U.S. midfielder Jermaine Jones tore through the Jamaican defense on a counter attack, but there wasn't much. And there may even have been some question as to whether Taylor was the last man on defense.
Still, the Americans were superior to a poorly organized Jamaican bunch, and the home side can feel good for a strong performance with a top talent missing from the starting lineup. Bradley made the bold call to keep star attacker Landon Donovan on the bench after the U.S. all-time leading scorer missed three days of team activities and arrived at 7 a.m. Sunday following his sister's wedding in California.
It was strategic rather than punitive, of course. And it really was a bold call, one that would have left the U.S. coach under pressure with any other outcome. But some tactical adjustments kept the U.S. mostly in charge inside RFK Stadium against the talented and previously confident Jamaicans. Jones, who is finally looking like the player the U.S. thought it had when he joined the U.S. pool last year, supplied a massive goal just after the break. Clint Dempsey's classy finish helped atone for a night of squandered chances Wednesday and more or less closed the match against the Reggae Boyz, who were down to 10 men by then thanks to Jones.
It all served as a desperately needed, calming balm for a U.S. side that has been anything but tiptop so far in Gold Cup play, and certainly was for the coach. Maybe it wasn't do-or-die for Bradley, but Sunday's match in the nation's capital sure had that ring to it.
Bradley had a good afternoon, personally. Players may win matches, but the U.S. coach put his charges in good spots with a formation change that proved highly effective. For the Americans' most important match since returning from South Africa almost a year ago, Bradley shifted out of his highly favored 4-4-2.
Jamaica clearly struggled to locate the danger men in the Americans' 4-2-3-1. The Reggae Boyz' inability to get a toehold on the game -- aside from Luton Shelton missing a golden opportunity early -- was especially surprising considering Donovan's absence over the first 65 minutes. Alejandro Bedoya, Donovan's replacement, had his best night in a U.S. shirt when his side needed it most.
The choice to start Dempsey -- who also missed the latter part of the week and jetted via private plane into the nation's capital in the wee small hours following his own sister's wedding in Texas -- also proved correct. While fatigue seemed to dampen some American performances, the toll of too many matches, too much heat and too much travel over the last two weeks, Dempsey hopped around causing trouble none the worse.
Bradley's tactical changes seemed to cause some early issues for Jamaican defenders, who needed time to sort out back line responsibilities. That created gaps that the Americans found early, although it took about 30 minutes for Dempsey and Co. to begin making the Jamaicans pay.
By the end of the first half the Americans started identifying the paths toward long and lanky goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, who kept his team in the match with several strong saves. Dempsey's fierce free kick and Sacha Kljestan's strike from distance, both of which forced Ricketts into quick action, put the Caribbean side under pressure just before halftime. Shortly after but still before the break, Kljestan arranged a header for Bedoya, who missed just wide.
Jones' goal shortly after halftime was the first past Ricketts in the Gold Cup and helped resupply the stores of belief to a U.S. team that has never lost to Jamaica.
Only for about 10 minutes of the second half did the Caribbean side press the home team. Jamaica's ability to rest starters for the group play finale (the spoils of being on top of things in Gold Cup group play) nearly proved critical. Jamaica began finding space against a tiring U.S. bunch after about 70 minutes. But Dempsey's clever finish off substitute striker Juan Agudelo's pass secured passage to Wednesday's semifinal in Houston.