U.S. gets satisfaction with friendly win over Jamaica to close January camp
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- After playing Serbia to a scoreless draw last weekend, the United States national team won the second game of Bruce Arena's second stint as U.S. coach, riding a 59th-minute goal from Jordan Morris to beat Jamaica in a friendly that marked the Americans' final tune-up before next month's pivotal World Cup qualifiers against Honduras and Panama. Here are three quick thoughts on Friday's match.
1. This win matters
Arena said repeatedly during the Americans' almost month-long camp that the only results that count are the ones next month. That's true, and the fact that the coach didn't risk surefire March starters Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley on the artificial turf from the beginning of the contest at Finley Stadium proved that the result was not the top priority. But Arena also said that securing a victory would be important, if only to build some momentum and confidence.
As such, it was no surprise that the home team played with increased urgency after going into the locker room tied 0-0 at halftime. And when Morris finally knocked in the first goal of the second Arena era just before the hour mark, the Americans' celebrations showed that this was no meaningless exhibition. Even though points were not at stake, this was a game the U.S. wanted badly after a grueling January ended without the satisfaction of getting on the score sheet.
It was well deserved, too; the hosts enjoyed almost 70 percent of possession and out-shot the Reggae Boyz 9-5, including 3-0 in on-target attempts.
2. Several reserves make their case
The best player on the field during the opening 25 minutes of the match was undoubtedly Sporting Kansas City midfielder Benny Feilhaber, the 2010 World Cup veteran who spent much of the past three years exiled from then-U.S. manager Jurgen Kllinsmann's sqaud. Feilhaber has a new lease on life under Arena, and early on it showed.
His touch and vision were on full display, and he was active and engaged during most of the first half. But despite setting up Morris' winning strike, Feilhaber became less active as the match wore on -- something he was guilty of often as a young player under Bob Bradley in that 2010 cycle -- and was pulled in favor of Michael Bradley three minutes after the eventual winner.
That doesn't mean Feilhaber can't help the Americans during qualifying, though. Even if he didn't leapfrog New York Red Bulls string-puller Sacha Kljestan, Feilhaber still showed that he can have an impact in shorter bursts. Indeed, he was mostly used as a late substitute by Bradley, and could well fill the same role under Arena as well.
Elsewhere in the midfield, Dax McCarty showed poise and got a hockey assist, and Sebastian Lletget displayed smarts and fight in a wider role than he played off the bench last weekend. And Feilhaber's SKC teammate Graham Zusi put in another competent shift at right back, where his positioning will only improve with more reps. Jorge Villafana was quiet -- in a good way -- in the opposite corner, and young FC Dallas center-back Walker Zimmerman barely put a foot wrong in his first cap.
3. Others not so much
Four-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, who turns 35 in May, played only four minutes over two games, suggesting that his glorious international career might finally be over. Chris Pontius, 29, got the start on the right side of midfield but was quiet -- not in a good way -- during most of his second senior appearance. And while forward Juan Agudelo made his first U.S. start since 2015, he wasn't nearly aggressive enough in the final third of the field. He squandered a legitimate chance to score for the second consecutive game, this time by pulling a first-half shot just wide of Andre Blake's goal.
Agudelo is still only 24, of course. The physical and technical tools he possesses remain plain for all to see, but he still hasn't demonstrated the killer instinct necessary to be a regular at the highest level, where forwards are expected to finish the one chance they get. That's not to say it won't come eventually; this summer's Gold Cup should provide another platform. But unless he begins the new MLS season on fire in New England, it would be a surprise to see him on Arena's roster when the varsity convenes next month.
Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @DougMacESPN.