When I lived in Chicago Comcast—the reigning cable and Internet regime in the city—ran an advertising campaign about “what would people do for their Comcast coverage.” One of the ads stated people would rather take a crushing hit from Brian Urlacher, the Chicago Bears bruising linebacker, than live without their Comcast. I was not one of those people. I despised Comcast: their $90/month charge for basic cable, shoddy Internet service, inept customer service. We actually lived without cable for most of our four years in Chicago, subscribing only when sporting events—the 2010 World Cup, the Tour de France (my wife’s addicted to it)—required us to have it.
Our family lives in Los Angeles now, and after living without a television for a year, when the European Championships rolled around in June, I finally decided I couldn’t bear not being able to watch sports—particularly soccer—in my house. We bought a TV, and after a tumultuous relationship with Time Warner, the cable and Internet regime in Los Angeles, a masterful salesman at Best Buy got us to subscribe to DirecTV. I will be forever thankful to him, and this week proves why: last month, the U.S Soccer Federation announced that BeIN, the new sports programming channel from Al-Jazeera, would broadcast Friday’s U.S.-Jamaica World Cup Qualifier. We didn’t have the sports package that included BeIN. How could I get it? On Friday morning, I called DirecTV, added the requisite Sports Pack via an automated service, agreed to pay an extra $12 a month, and just like that—no haggling with befuddled customer service reps, no visit from a technician (which I’d have to pay for) to push a button on our cable box—our DirecTV subscription included Fox Soccer Channel, BeIN sports, and the NBC Sports network—which means I can now basically watch soccer 24/7—starting with Friday’s U.S.-Jamaica qualifier.
The game provided an opportunity for the U.S. to make history for the third time this year: after earning their first ever victory over Italy in March and their first win in Mexico on August 15th, on Friday, they had the chance to beat Jamaica in Jamaica for the first time.
Thirty-seven seconds into the game, that achievement seemed possible: Hercules Gomez beat his defender, and after sending a few shots at Jamaica players—first the Jamaican goalkeeper Dwayne Miller, then a defender—the ball bounced to Clint Dempsey, who—playing in his first competitive game since June—proved why last season he was a leading goals corer in the English Premier League: a knack for being in the right place at the right time, and clinical finishing ability. He passed the ball into the goal from about seven yards out, and the U.S. had a 1-0 lead.
Dempsey’s goal was the fastest in U.S. World Cup Qualifying history. But truth be told, after that goal, the game went downhill for the U.S.
Jamaica slowly worked their way back into the game. They closed space in midfield, wining the ball and then keeping possession. After ten minutes or so that increase in possession began to pay off: they were creating offensive opportunities. In particular, Rudolph Austin was running at players, controlling the ball, and springing the Jamaica attack. And he was earning fouls: in particular, Kyle Beckerman couldn’t keep pace with the faster and stronger Jamaica midfield, and he was consistently having to chase down players. Which is exactly what led to Jamaica’s equalizer in the 23rd minute: Beckerman fouled Austin about five yards outside the penalty area. On the ensuing free-kick, Austin rifled a daisy cutter through the American wall—which jumped, expecting Austin to try and go over the wall—and the ball ricocheted off Beckerman’s leg and past Tim Howard.
After that tying goal, the U.S. never really threatened to get back into the game. Jamaica, playing with more physical aggression and better technical ability and tactical execution, controlled the game. But as much as Jamaica was in control, the U.S. never posed much of a threat.
This was a game played primarily between the penalty boxes. Aside from Dempsey’s goal, neither team had many chances on goal from the run of play. The United States’ lineup seemed to lack a strong link between midfield and its forwards. Jurgen Klinsmann started three defensive midfielders: Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman, and Jermaine Jones. Dempsey played in front of those three players, but he was never able to provide an adequate link between midfield and the American forwards Jozy Altidore and Hercules Gomez. Throughout the second part of the first half and the entirety of the second half, Jamaica absolutely dominated the midfield, and that dominance proved the difference. In any game, the team controls the midfield will likely win.
And in the 62nd minute, Jamaica got the chance they need to earn the victory. Maurice Edu made a late diving tackle on Austin, and the referee called a foul. Again, Jamaica lined up for a free kick in a dangerous position, about 25 yards from goal. This time the taker was Luton Shelton. He took a world-class free kick: The ball curled with blistering pace over the American wall, nicked the inside of the post, and went in. 2-1.
Jamaica maintained their composure and closed out the game. Now they stand atop Group A with 7 points, while the U.S. is tied for second place with four points. The top two teams from the group will advance to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. If they lose to Jamaica in Columbus on Tuesday, they won’t be eliminated from World Cup Qualifying, but they’ll face a tough road in their final two qualifying games.
After Friday’s performance, a loss on Tuesday seems fairly likely. The U.S. is missing Landon Donovan, who—although he is reaching the end of his career—is still a key playmaker and even more important leader for the national team. They’re also missing Michael Bradley, a key member of their midfield, who can both win balls on defense and create plays on offense. On Friday, Jamaica looked flat-out better: better organized, more composed, more aggressive. They owned the midfield and took advantage of their two best opportunities. If they do the same on Tuesday in Columbus, the United States’ mission to qualify for Brazil 2014 could be in serious danger.