Jamaica lethargic in defeat
FOXBORO, Mass. -- Maybe it's the views of the Charles River, the chowder at the Union Oyster House or the love of a thick, Kennedy-like Boston accent. Whatever it is, the U.S. national team always flourishes in the Bay State.
Upping its record to 6-1-1 at the Big Razor and a combined 13-1-4 in Massachusetts when taking into account the matches played at the old Foxboro Stadium, the U.S. trounced Jamaica 3-1 on Saturday afternoon in a CONCACAF Gold Cup quarterfinal matchup.
For the U.S. side, the victory came about as much because of their ability to possess the ball and make the Reggae Boyz chase, as it was the lack of energy of a Jamaican team that did not display their usual intensity and collective speed.
Since the Americans won their group by going 2-0-1 to start off the tournament, they did not have to travel after tying Costa Rica 0-0 on Tuesday night. Jamaica, on the other hand, finished in third place of Group C, which meant they had to fly from Houston to Boston on Thursday after Wednesday night's 1-0 loss to Mexico.
The fact that their team plane was delayed for several hours didn't help matters for the already-fatigued Jamaicans. That definitely factored into the game plan for the U.S., as it came out in an aggressive 3-4-3 formation with Steve Ralston and DaMarcus Beasley pushed up on the wings alongside Josh Wolff looking to pressure Jamaica's three defenders and force their outside midfielders to track back defensively more than they would have liked to in the humidity.
"It worked," admitted Jamaica's lone centerback Tyrone Marshall. "We had an indication that they would come out and press us, and they had a good game plan. They pressured us and waited to see how long our stamina would last."
It wasn't long.
The Jamaican players seemed a step slow from the outset. None of the balls played back through centerback Oguchi Onyewu or markers Jimmy Conrad and Greg Vanney were contested by their front-runners. And once the ball moved into the midfield and up top, there was a lot more aimless jogging being done on the defensive end rather than anyone closing down lanes or coming in to win tackles. It allowed the U.S. to pick and choose when to play laterally and when to go forward.
"You have to credit our ball movement in the first half," said Onyewu, who was solid in the organizing role of his three-man backline. "It caused them to chase. They were fatigued, so that wasn't what they wanted to do."
"It turned out exactly the way we wanted it to," said Beasley, who scored two goals to go along with an assist during a very productive afternoon. "We knew that they get disorganized in the back. And we wanted to utilize Steve Ralston and myself on the flanks. We had a lot of space and when we attacked down the flanks the middle opened up. Our game plan worked perfectly."
What helped the side execute this game plan was the fact that they got on the board so early in the match. Only six minutes in, a shot by Beasley from 15 yards out got deflected and wound up on the foot of Wolff, who was unmarked in front of the goal. The Kansas City Wizards striker's quick turn made the match even more of an uphill climb for the Reggae Boyz. Yet it wasn't what did them in the most. Blame that on a botched penalty kick by Andy Williams shortly after.
Once Jamaica's golden opportunity to tie the match at 1-1 only a minute after Wolff's strike went awry, it was as though the heart was taken out of the side.
"The penalty kick took the wind out of our sails," said Marshall, who plays for the Los Angeles Galaxy. "I thought if we got that goal, it would have made for a much different half. After that, we fell into a daze. A ot of the guys were walking and our play was slow."
Some of the more impressive play displayed by the Americans during the entire year came during the first half when Jamaica was still reeling from the missed PK. There was a sequence in the 14th minute when the U.S. strung together about a dozen passes in a row, methodically breaking down their opponent's defense. There were also moments that saw John O'Brien, playing as a left-sided midfielder, and Beasley combine well on their side of the field as though they had never skipped a beat from playing together in the 2002 World Cup. Add in the play of Wolff, who made himself more available coming back to the ball with his back to the goal, and it was a pleasing exhibition of one- and two-touch passing.
"We were patient," said Pablo Mastroeni, who played behind Donovan in the center of the midfield. "We did a really good job of moving the ball from side to side."
What was probably most impressive was the team's second goal, which was scored by Beasley on a pass from Donovan in the 42nd minute. The Los Angeles Galaxy playmaker found his favorite target by slipping him behind the defense with a pass with the outside of the foot between two defenders on a well-timed play done with precision. Beasley hit it first time with his left foot on the six-yard line to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead at the time.
It was just another example of the understanding between the two young stars that has been developing since they were both 16-year-olds in residency together down in Bradenton, Fla. The quick run to space behind his defender and precise finish also proved that Beasley is getting close to returning to the outstanding form he had last year for PSV Eindhoven before suffering a season-ending knee injury in April.
"If I'm a defender in Holland, I'm pretty scared," said Donovan of his longtime teammate.
Added Marshall: "I think DaMarcus is the best player on the U.S. team. He's a guy you don't want to see (as an opponent)."
Had the U.S. played like they did in the first half, it could have turned into an ugly affair. But several missed chances that could have put a fork in the Jamaicans kept the game close. What didn't help the side's causes was Ben Olsen's red card in the 58th minute. The D.C. United midfielder ran down Williams and grabbed him with his left hand once he caught up to him just outside the box. Since he was the last defender and it was deemed a "breakaway" foul, Olsen was sent off, giving Jamaica a one-man advantage.
Arena was hardly pleased. When asked whether Olsen had any other choice but to foul the Real Salt Lake midfielder, his response was: "Yeah, his choice was to be in a better spot as the play developed. That was his choice. The other choice is not to foul the player."
Fortunately for Olsen and his teammates, Khari Stephenson's free kick slammed off the right post on the ensuing free kick. And before Jamaica could take any real advantage of playing against 10 men, defender Jermaine Taylor was red-carded for upending Beasley near the U.S. bench only eight minutes later to even up the numbers on the field.
Beasley and Ricardo Fuller swapped goals in the final 10 minutes of play, yet it never seemed as though the U.S. lead was in jeopardy. Arena's side dominated from the outset of the match through the final whistle. The U.S. manager said that this was his team's best performance of the four matches played thus far in the tournament, which was helped by Jamaica actually trying to play the game rather than sitting back in a bunker hoping to keep it a low-scoring affair.
"Our first three games we played against opponents that had a definite plan about not letting anything get behind them," said Arena, whose side moves to 9-0-7 all-time versus Jamaica. "It made the games difficult - difficult to create chances. Today was a little bit more wide-open."
Speaking of wide-open, that's exactly how the U.S. side's next match should be against Honduras on Thursday night at Giants Stadium. After beating Costa Rica 3-2 earlier in the afternoon, the Catrachos will now try to break the U.S. team's home winning streak against CONCACAF opponents of 28 games, which dates back to the 3-2 win by Honduras in a World Cup qualifying match on September 1, 2001.
"It won't be easy," said Donovan, who watched most of the second half of the Honduras-Costa Rica match. "Honduras was good. They ran the whole game."
Marc Connolly covers soccer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.