Bob Bradley gamble opting to sit down Landon Donovan and opening with Alejandro Bedoya and Sasha Kljestan paid off handsomely. The midfield was a beehive of meaningful activity with the fresh legs of both players making repeated inroads into the heart of the Jamaican defense.
Bedoya in particular made the right channel a right terror with his pace and movement. With Steve Cherundolo serving up precision crosses there was the an air of inevitability about the match. It took an excellent Donovan Ricketts to deny the US time and time again. The Jamaicans who had shown excellent endeavour in the group stage disappointed with their lack of ambition and indiscipline allowing far too much space as the US seized control of the midfield.
So much so it seemed as if this was rope a dope for a counterattacking punch. But the reality was the Jamaicans lacked a clear cut plan of how to stop the US as groups of them milled in their own half waiting for a mistake to gift them the ball. For a brief shining moment all of this would not have mattered if Ryan Johnson had been able to beat Tim Howard and Luton Shelton had not muffed his shot of the resulting rebound. Even the injury departure of Jozy Altidore within 10 minutes of the match did not lift the Reggae Boyz. That is because Juan Agudelo shone as the replacement striker.
Two players need to be singled out. Clint Dempsey for channeling his frustrations of the previous match into well directed menace – he was excellent sitting just behind Altidore and then after Agudelo’s arrival taking over the role of frontline striker. The midfielder gave the defense all kinds of problems with his improvisations. He is clearly the US’s most creative player. It took all of Ricketts reflexes to fend off a first time volley, a well struck bicycle kick, and then thwarting a point blank header.
Jermaine Jones for finding a way to break the deadlock for his smashing piledriver which Ricketts would have been able to save except for Jermain Taylor’s fortuitous intervention which saw the ball change course for the first goal. A well deserved bit of luck after all the huffing and puffing. Jones also made Sergio Busquets look like a rank amateur going down poleaxed after Taylor stuck out a speculative leg. There was no contact but referee Marco Rodriguez fell for that bit of theatre pulling out the red card as Jamaica was reduced to ten men in the 67th minute. But Jones marshaled the backfield excellently disrupting the speedy Jamaicans with his tough, physical presence.
By that time Landon Donovan was on the pitch in place of the impressive Bedoya. And he made an instant impact drawing out his LA Galaxy team mate Ricketts but with a gaping goal in front was ruled offside. However he was on target minutes later as he fed Agudelo a ball wide right and the striker cut in to nutmeg a pass to Dempsey. The Fulham man coolly and calmly sidestepped Ricketts before turning the ball into goal. It bears saying a reflective moment ended Deuce’s doughnut – all the prior reflexive occurrences having failed.
The second goal established a few things. First, Agudelo as a striker loves to play wide and these instincts led to the goal happening in the first place and second, Dempsey is actually a striker and should really be employed in that role.
Bradley deserves all the credit for this win. He has his detractors with much of the criticism reserved for his cautious and crab like approach to the game. But today his faith in Bedoya and Kljestan was vindicated. Bradley has also taken a step in the right direction promoting Eric Lichaj as left back. He did a great job neutralizing the dangerous Dane Richards. With Lichaj and Cherundolo on the channels the USA has opened up the field. The back four also have a far more settled look with Bocanegra and Goodson in the centre.
The USA now meet Panama in the semi-finals in a repeat of their group match which ended badly for them. However, after this performance the USA look like they’re back on track.