USA superior; Boyz away game inferior
ELEVEN years after the burning memory of a terrorist assault on the twin towers in downtown Manhattan, Americans paid tribute to the many fallen victims.
But as evidenced last Tuesday night, revenge is still a unifying force that this nation clings to in overcoming all rivals.
Jamaica, by inflicting an embarrassing 2-1 defeat on the USA in Kingston just four days before, knocking them from the pinnacle of Zone A, was now number one on the 'hit list'.
Though the Columbus Crew football-specific stadium has its address as #1 Black and Gold Boulevard, that is as far as it went for anything remotely welcoming to Jamaican visitors. Boasting a remarkable record of five US victories and two draws, it's fast becoming the official home stadium for the USA men's team.
A packed stadium just shy of 24,000 flag-waving, enthusiastic supporters had come to exact revenge and regain their 'rightful' place atop the group.
The ease with which that happened for the next 45 minutes must have surprised even the USA, as Jamaica virtually surrendered the entire field and sat back too deep in the danger zones.
Jamaica, strangely, seemed to have given up all the positive mindset, self-belief and commitment to win.
Relentless possession, penetration and the ringing of alarm bells followed as the hosts bombarded the visitors' defence, marching down the right flank with combinations from Graham Zusi in concert with Steve Cherundolo on the left, with Jose Torres, assisted by Jermaine Jones, Danny Williams and Clint Dempsey rotated in the centre to service Hercules Gomez in attack.
Slick ball movement on a well-manicured pitch, fluid rotation in and out of spaces helped to synchronise the style of play that the USA demanded, as the Reggae Boyz watched, waited, and kept their defensive shape behind the ball in numbers, but not interrupting the flow for prolonged periods, resulting in shots raining on goal from every angle conceivable.
Honduran referee Jose Penado awarded a free-kick some 27 yards from goal in a central position as goalkeeper Dwayne Miller's three fingers indicated, but nobody responded as Gomez floated a dangerous ball into the penalty box. Jones missed the header from 11 yards.
Two minutes later, a rash tackle by Lovel Palmer on Jones close to the right corner flag was cautioned by Penado. Again, Gomez floated another free-kick goalward, which was cleared.
With 79 per cent ball possession to the 'Yankies' in the first half, seven shots goalward forced Miller to execute four outstanding saves, with shots from Cherundolo, Zusi and Gomez (twice). Three other opportunities, fortunately, deflected off Miller's goalposts when he was beaten. Two other finishes went wide.
Alarmingly, the Reggae Boyz gifted away possession 11 times even while they scarcely gained possession. They threatened once in the 29th minute with Jermaine Taylor playing a simple ball behind the defence for Luton Shelton that was not dealt with adequately, being scrambled away for a corner.
At half-time, with the scoreline miraculously still at 0-0, it was raining 'Stars and Stripes', as the Boyz barely held on, dreaming of a point.
Initially, an effort to come out early in the second half was heartening as Ryan Johnson and Shelton stifled Dempsey at the half-line to quickly combine and counter, with Shelton dashing 35 yards uninterrupted with the ball, slipping by three defenders to shoot left-footed over the crossbar as Tim Howard stared on.
In minute 52, Taylor miscued his pass to Shelton just outside the box as both smiled in acknowledgment of possibilities arising, giving a glimmer of hope, if for just a fleeting moment. However, it was not to be.
In minute 53, the team's 10th infringement, this on Dempsey who was unable to go forward and spun around in midfield as Rodolph Austin stretched in to clip his heel as he retreated to be penalised 25 yards from goal in a central position.
For the next minute-and-a-half, Miller again showed three fingers to make a defensive wall. Four players went, plus two other Americans on the inside, blocking his direct sight of the ball.
As the wall retreated to its mandatory 10 metres, Miller peered around the right side to see the kicker as Gomez floated it to his far left.
Shifting his weight from right to left, Miller's desperate dive left made contact with the ball, only to see it lodge inside the net as he slapped the ground before kicking his upright in disgust.
USA 1, Jamaica 0 in minute 55.
Thereafter, the game changed as Jamaica sprang into combat, battling in midfield instead of its laid-back deep defensive posture exhibited earlier. With their higher positional stand, the Boyz immediately won more possession as the USA consolidated to four defenders and midfielders to preserve the lead.
Passes evolved, running off the ball into new spaces were created, as three substitutions were made from both camps in a last-ditch effort to salvage a favourable result.
Austin's fierce right-footed drive from distance really troubled the inactive as he scrambled it away down low to his left after 80 minutes.
USA exacted revenge to regain their treasured status on top of Zone A by goal difference only over Guatemala and Jamaica, all on seven points after four games.
There is a lot to play for as Guatemala have both Jamaica and the USA to play in their remaining games. And the questions we have to answer correctly?
In order to advance to the next stage of CONCACAF Jamaica must improve their away record of playing twice, scoring no goals, while conceding once.
Is it that playing with almost the same team four days later following travelling, training and playing in a different environment caused fatigue mentally and physically? or is the coaching staff employing the wrong tactic, with the same players?
Where is the high-quality possession and scoring game exhibited at the Gold Cup last year with these same players, except for Keammar Daley? Demar Phillips is injured, so who is responsible for ball possession and penetration?
Our final away game is in Guatemala on Friday, October 12. We must get points there in order to be in a position to qualify.