When and if the United States National Team qualifies for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil, most fans are surely going to remember Brad Evans stunning goal in stoppage time late Friday night against Jamaica which — in the blink of an eye — turned a dispiriting 1-1 draw into a rousing 2-1 victory. What will likely be forgotten was what set up the goal, as Reggae Boyz keeper Donovan Ricketts couldn’t keep a ball from trickling over the end line for a corner kick. The U.S. played that ensuing corner short to Michael Bradley, who set up Evans on a play the Seattle Sounders midfielder-turned-right back said they’d worked on in practice.
It’s the little things, isn’t it?
Make no mistake, this was a game the U.S. needed — and mostly deserved — to take all three points. The Americans started strong, taking the game to the Jamaicans, who looked disorganized and like a team that knew its World Cup fate had already been sealed. Jozy Altidore’s header in the 30th minute — aided by comically inept marking by the Jamaican defense and a pinpoint cross by Graham Zusi — put the U.S. ahead 1-0. On numerous occasions the U.S. had chances to extend the lead to 2-0 and let fans relax for the final half hour or so, but of course this being the USMNT it’s never that easy.
As the hot night wore on in Kingston, the Americans legs began getting tired and started giving the ball away, despite the audible pleas from coach Jurgen Klinsmann from the touchline to, “KEEP THE BALL.” (Say what you will about Klinsmann, but it seems his consistently optimistic German heart is fully committed to the cause.) Jamaica looked equally fatigued and didn’t exactly create many chances itself in open play. It appeared the U.S. might actually be able to see out a 1-0 result.
That’s why Jermaine Beckford’s header in the 89th minute from a seemingly innocuous foul committed by Zusi near midfield would have made this feel like such a crushing result for both the team and the U.S. fans. The Americans had played well enough — on the road no less — but their mental lapses at the worst time almost threw away two points — again. This time it was not reacting to mark Beckford, who may have been offside on the goal. (Oh the instant-irony of tv analyst Cobi Jones praising it as a ‘smart foul’ since it slowed down a Jamaica break only to turn into a shocking goal in the span of 37 seconds.)
No matter, Evans — a fringe international player even in the best of circumstances thrust into right back by necessity — rescued the U.S. late with a Sir Alex Ferguson-approved ‘smash and grab.’ As a result the U.S. now has seven points through four qualifiers, second behind Costa Rica on goal differential and tied with mighty Mexico, which could only muster a 0-0 draw itself Friday night at Panama and has also played one more game than the Americans.
Just like they drew it up.
- It only took 28 matches, but Klinsmann finally used the same lineup in back-to-back games. It also shouldn’t come as a shock that the team, with over two weeks of training and a pair of friendlies, looked much more cohesive than they did in last week’s 4-2 loss to Belgium. If they looked worse, it would be a problem. A big one.
- Zusi’s late yellow card that set up the Jamaican goal means he’ll be suspended for Tuesday’s game vs. Panama due to card accumulation and the U.S. consecutive lineup streak ends at two. Jermaine Jones suffered a concussion during the match, too, meaning he’s likely out Tuesday night in Seattle. Klinsmann might have to re-think the lineup now, rather than subbing in like-for-like players, though it could open the door to Stuart Holden’s long-awaited return to the team.
- Klinsmann wore this shirt during the game. Sexy time! (It can be yours for the low, low price of $39.99.)
- Throughout the match, if you were watching closely, you no doubt saw the American players attempt some time-wasting maneuvers, like taking their time on throw-ins. It was refreshing to see, considering how often opponents try to pull that stuff against the U.S. (There’s no honor in CONCACAF qualifying.)
- If you’re taking notes at home 3 of the 4 starting U.S. defenders (Evans, Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler) each play in MLS. Zusi made it four MLSers out of the starting XI.
- This match was televised in America on the nascent beIN SPORT channel, which many people still can’t access legally — or even know what it is since three friends texted me last night completely baffled when I told them where the game was airing. On the plus side, play-by-play guy Phil Schoen might be the best in the business in terms of an American calling the game. The relaxed, knowledgeable and conversational nature between he and Jones was welcome. That said, beIN didn’t exactly endear itself to viewers by cutting away to highlights of the Paraguay/Chile match during the action in Kingston, which caused everyone to miss a shot on target by Jamaica. Not a huge deal, but something folks remember.
All you really need to know is that after the win, ESPN’s Soccer Power Index bumped the U.S. chances toward qualifying for Brazil up to about 95 percent. Everybody on three … exhale.
[Photo by Getty]