One great things about soccer is that when your club team is on the skids — or, as it were, a rotting corpse at the bottom of the MLS table — you can always turn to the national team. Recent reports confirm that D.C. United is still dead, so let’s go USMNT! The last qualifier was a draw against Mexico, but that game was so long ago (March) that it’s hard to draw conclusions about the team’s current form. A lot has changed during the layoff: Stuart Holden got healthy, Timothy Chandler got hurt and Landon Donovan returned from his walkabout or vision quest or whatever he was doing (though he’s still not on the roster). Brad Evans is preferred to Geoff Cameron. Brek Shea has fallen in and out of favor about six times. U.S. national team games are like an arranged marriage: You don’t know what you’re getting until it’s already happening.
The lineup for Friday night’s World Cup qualifier at Jamaica: Howard | Beasley, Besler, Gonzalez, Evans | Johnson (Fabian, not Eddie or Lyndon Baines), Bradley, Jones, Zusi | Dempsey, Altidore. It’s the exact same lineup that beat Germany’s B-minus team on June 2. I have no problem with this lineup, but I’m not drawing many conclusions from beating a German team that is to German football what Hot Dog on a Stick is to German food.
Here’s kickoff from “The Office”, so-called by locals because the official name is Dunder Mifflin Stadium.
1’ - Team USA starts hot, and Bradley hits the post! That sequence included a good touch from every member of the U.S. attack. Very encouraging start, except for the part about not scoring any points.
2’ - Ricketts is down. This is either very bad news for Jamaica, or this is a savvy move by a veteran player to call the soccer version of a “basketball timeout” to calm down his team.
4’ - Verdict: savvy veteran move.
5’ - I’m watching this on beIN Sport, as in “They BeIN the way of you watching qualifiers on a normal channel.” BeIn is available on my cable package as a $10 add-on. But I also get the Log Sawing Network and Sky Sports Moldova as part of the deal, so I don’t feel ripped off.
6’ - The referee is Panama’s Roberto Salazar, described by the commentator as “the best referee in CONCACAF.” You know what: I would agree with that. But he’s still terrible.
9’ - I would have a big problem with Evans starting instead of Cameron except for this: Cameron is not in good form right now. I watched a lot of Stoke matches this spring (boy, do I know how to party!), and Cameron was playing but not playing very well.
12’ - I’ve never seen the Office’s field in such good shape. Normally it looks like a pumpkin patch that just hosted a monster truck rally.
13’ - Jamaica is sponsored by Kappa, and the game is being played with a Kappa ball. Geez, aren’t there regulations about what type of ball to use? So if Pepperidge Farm sponsors a national team then we get a ball made in the same factory where they make the goldfish crackers? Seriously, this is a problem: Adidas balls do not move like Nike balls.
16’ - I should probably give you an update on the actual soccer game: After a frantic start, Jamaica is establishing more possession. The United States is looking for quick outlets when the ball turns over. Jones in particular is having a lot of success finding Johnson and Zusi.
17’ - BeIN suddenly decides show a full 90 second of highlights from Paraguay v. Chile while the match is going on (apparently Jamaica had a shot that Howard saved). Bad, beIN … very bad. I didn’t realize this was World Cup Qualifier Fast Break; I wanted to watch the USA -Jamaica game.
18’ - The beIN commentator: “They have a track around the stadium here in Kingston. They might just need Usain Bolt to do that.” Ugh … this is not a high-quality broadcast, BeIN. If it wasn’t for the Poulan Lumberjack U-20 Championships next week I would cancel as soon as this match is over.
24’ - Suddenly the Americans can’t keep the ball. Our formation doesn’t match our tactics; we’re trying to play the ball up-field as soon as we win it, but the midfield is lying so deep that Dempsey and Altidore are the only options.
26’ - Cultural differences: Jones commits a foul that is a non-incident in Germany but always a foul in CONCACAF. The current exchange rate is: 1 fall in Germany = 4 rolls and 3 dabs with the magic sponge in CONCACAF.
29’ – GOAL USA! Zusi gets free on the right and crosses for Altidore, who buries the header! Jamaica was totally asleep at the back; Jozy will finish that header 10 times out of 10.
32’ - Our “stay compact and counter” strategy makes more sense now than it did a few minutes ago.
37’ - Jamaica off the post! It started with a bad goal kick from Howard, and Evans and Gonzalez gave too much space. We were lucky there.
45’ - Ricketts was down for several minutes, but because it’s the first half there’s only one minute of stoppage time. When I’m a father, I’m going to teach my kids two things: 1) Liquor then beer, all in the clear, 2) Stoppage time is made up.
Halftime: 1-0 USA. The United States isn’t out-thinking or out-hustling Jamaica in this match; it’s winning because it has better players. They gave Jozy one chance and he took it. Besler, Gonzalez and Jones are winning the tackles they need to win.
50’ - Either we’re looking bad or Jamaica is suddenly looking dangerous; they’ve been on the front foot for several minutes. Beasley is swamped; we’re currently dealing with more attacks from the right than President Obama.
53’ - Jozy almost scores on a mini-bicycle! Let’s all take a minute to picture Jozy riding a mini-bicycle! Hilarious!
59’ - The only thing not to like about Evans tonight: his beard. I like my defenders to be decisive; all in or all out on that beard please, Brad.
60’ - Jones took a knock to the head and is coming off. He’s being checked for a concussion. When you ask Jones “Who’s the president?”, if he says “Angela Merkel” does that count as a right answer?
66’ - Johnson is really looking like a left back, not a left mid. Should he switch with Beasley?
67’ - Jamaica does us a huge favor by taking out Johnson (Jermaine, not Fabian, Eddie, Lyndon Baines or Jack). Very strange sub — he was decimating our left side.
78’ - Castillo gets an open look at goal but wastes it. He’s looked bad recently, but I know he plays for Tijuana and Tijuana is good. Can anyone in the comments section vouch for his form for Tijuana?
88’ – Goal Jamaica! There were two ways to tell goal-scorer Jermaine Beckford was offside: 1) Look with your eyes, and 2) The extremely guilty look he gave the linesman after scoring. You know who else had a good view of the play: Eddie Johnson, who was supposed to be marking Beckford.
89’ - That goal really stings. We’ve had a lot of open space in the second half but didn’t do anything with it. This was our best chance to get three points on the road and it’s probably gone.
90’ + 1’ – BUT BRAD EVANS SAVES US! GOAL USA – THREE POINTS (probably) BAGGED! Off a corner, Bradley plays a short cross to Evans, who turns and curls it inside the far post! Great goal — huge goal. I know we were all thinking before this match, “If we’re really up against the wall, maybe Brad Evans will save us.” Yep. How many times has this team turned to Brad Evans when the chips are down? It was like in the last round when we got a crucial assist from Alan Gordon. You’ve got to be able to rely on your stalwarts.
Full time: 2-1, USA. Huge win. We’ve recovered from the hole we dug ourselves in Honduras.
Howard: 6. Solid with the gloves, though I don’t know what happened with that goal kick in the 37th minute.
Beasley: 5. Was helped a lot by Jamaica’s bizarre decision to take off Johnson. He worked hard but I’d like to see him be more productive in attack.
Besler: 6. Besler’s not the speediest guy, so you worry about him against a team like Jamaica, but he positioned himself well.
Gonzalez: 5.5. Other people will probably rate him higher because his tackles were solid and he won everything in the air, but I felt he was giving Jamaica too much space.
Evans: 6.5. Even without the goal, a good performance. If I had made a list of the top seven U.S. right backs one month ago, Evans wouldn’t have been on it.
Fabian Johnson: 3. He seemed to rush his touches, and I don’t think he played a quality cross all night. Zusi misses the next match due to yellow cards, which means that Johnson will probably keep his spot and I will probably spend the whole match diary complaining that Landon Donovan should be on the roster.
Jones: 6.5. The Jermaine Jones haters need to pipe down; he’s a quality option. Unfortunately, it looks like he’ll miss the Panama match with a concussion.
Bradley: 7. It’s easy to forget that he’s the same age as guys like Besler and Johnson; he plays like a grizzled veteran.
Zusi: 6. He’s getting praise for the assists he had in the last two matches (as he should), but I’m more impressed with his work rate. He’s an asset on defense.
Dempsey: 4. Credit to Jamaica: they were not letting Dempsey turn. It’s a good sign that we won when our best player had an off night.
Altidore: 6.5. Nice to see him do that Chicharito thing where he ghosts right between the two center backs so that each thinks the other is marking him.
Cameron: 5.5. It’s weird that Evans ended up playing right back while Cameron was playing center mid.
Castillo: 3. Like I mentioned: Zusi misses the next match. Start slicing up limes, because it is Corona time.
Eddie Johnson: 2.5. One of the most inept substitute performances I’ve ever seen. In only a few minutes on the field, he managed to waste several opportunities and lose his mark on the goal. The most damaging 10 minutes since Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention.