The United States labored for over 70 minutes on Friday before eventually producing enough quality to down Jamaica at Kansas City’s Sporting Park, 2-0. Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore scored the goals in the final 13 minutes to ensure that the already-qualified U.S. finish top of the Hexagonal standings and that Jamaica will finish bottom, with one match still remaining.
Jurgen Klinsmann had talked in the lead up to the match about the need for his side to begin preparations in earnest for next year’s World Cup. But, in truth, much of this qualifier played out with the urgency of a pre-season exhibition. With the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Omar Gonzalez out injured, there was a chance for some of the squad’s fringe players to stake their claim to be on the flight to Brazil next year. However in an unfamiliar 4-4-2 system, few of the starters made a significant impression.
In-form striker Aron Johansson was handed a first start alongside his former AZ Alkmaar teammate Altidore, but, although there were glimpses of his quality, nerves appeared to hamper his performance. Mix Diskerud also struggled playing as an orthodox central midfielder alongside Jermaine Jones. Indeed, it wasn’t until Klinsmann changed the shape of the team back to the more familiar 4-2-3-1 that the U.S. found some cohesion going forward.
Jamaica, which needed a win to keep their slim hopes of qualification alive, came out on the front foot under new coach Winfried Schafer. With three quick forwards in the lineup, Jamaica pushed the U.S. back and pressed the home side high up the pitch. And there was plenty of discomfort among the U.S. side early on. It was lucky to escape when an in-swinging free-kick saw Tim Howard react late and just spill the ball out onto Brad Evans, who was thankfully more alert to clear off the line.
The early pressure lessened as the half wore on and some pressing from DaMarcus Beasley led to a shot that was deflected wide of the post. The limited openings that did come the home side’s way largely fell the way of Johansson. The Alabama-born, Iceland-raised striker should have done better than to volley wide after controlling a corner inside the box, while he showed neat skill to later step inside a defender before being closed out as he went to shoot.
But with the U.S. sloppy in possession there was little opportunity to get men forward, despite the attacking nature of the lineup. The midfield and attack all looked uncertain about their precise roles.
It was a situation that got little better, despite Zusi replacing the disappointing Landon Donovan at the break, at the start of the second half. Jamaica perhaps should have taken the lead but Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks headed a presentable chance straight down for Howard from 10 yards.
It was Sacha Kljestan’s introduction for Johansson and a change in shape just past the 70-minute mark that provided the catalyst for the home side’s late flourish. Still when the goal came it was very much reflective of the scrappiness of the match that had preceded it. Jamaica on several occasions got tackles in but failed to get the ball away in an around its box and when Alejandro Bedoya’s cross deflected back to the edge of the area, Zusi failed to make great contact with his shot but had enough direction to send it bobbling into the corner.
Klejstan himself could have added a second moments later with a volley that was saved by the legs of Duwayne Kerr as the U.S. began to find its feet. And four minutes after their first goal, a game-clinching second arrived to send the fans in Kansas City home happy.
A poor attempted clearance gave the ball straight to another impressive substitute Edgar Castillo down the left and the full-back rolled a simple ball across the six-yard box for Altidore to tap home. For the striker, who has enjoyed a difficult start to his Sunderland career, it made it six-straight starts for his country with a goal.
Castillo should have helped make it 3-0 late on but opted for an ambitious half-volley with the outside of his right foot from the angle rather than laying it on a plate for Altidore to get another.
Still, it was a good ending to the night for Klinsmann, but he will know that there is plenty of work still to do and few matches in which to do it before heading out to Brazil.