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Bob Bradley has finally shown a willingness to adjust his tactics in the beginning of a competitive fixture, but how far is he willing to deviate from the norm to exploit the weaknesses of an opponent?
After an impressive run through Group C in the 2011 Gold Cup, Panama are favorites to continue on to the semifinals and secure a rematch against the United States. Standing in their way is El Salvador, a team who have always been on the fringes of cracking into the second tier of CONCACAF teams but have never really gotten there. Defeating Panama and getting into the Gold Cup semifinals would certainly be a great start. Here are the lineups.
Panama lineup: Penedo; Baloy, Henriquez, Torres, Machado, Gomes, Barahama, Henriquez, Cooper, Tejada, Ruiz
El Salvador lineup: Montes, Anaya, Purdy, Turcios, Garcia, Hernandez, D. Alas, J. Alas, Quintanilla, Zelaya, Corrales
The striking combination of Tejada and Ruiz has been fantastic all tournament for Panama, and they will probably play a good deal of long balls to those players. The matchup to watch in this one will probably be Panama's defender Baloy against El Salvador's striker Zelaya, as they are arguably the best players on their respective teams. Kickoff is at 6 pm ET.
After a couple of lackluster performances, the United States finally resembled the team that everyone thought they would be, convincingly defeating Jamaica 2-0 in the Gold Cup quarterfinals to advance to Wednesday's semifinals, where they will take on the winner of the game between Panama and El Salvador. Jermaine Jones scored the opening goal, which would also be the eventual winner, while Clint Dempsey added an insurance goal late in the match.
The first half was more or less dominated by the United States, who were allowed to keep possession without being contested very much. Jamaica created a couple of great chances on the counter-attack, but both of their best scoring opportunities were completely squandered by Luton Shelton, who had a very poor game. From the run of play, Jamaica did almost nothing.
Jozy Altidore had to come out of the game in the 9th minute due to a hamstring injury, which has been tentatively diagnosed as a hamstring strain, seemingly leaving the USMNT with some problems. Juan Agudelo, a different kind of striker, was the man who entered the game, but the team saw no drop-off with him playing instead of Altidore.
The United States took the lead early in the second half, thanks to a shot by Jermaine Jones. The Reggae Boyz left him a considerable amount of space in midfield and Jones took advantage by ripping a shot from the outside of the box. His shot deflected off a defender before going in, giving Donovan Ricketts no chance to make a save, and the United States went up 1-0.
Jamaica's hopes at coming back ended with two separate events between the 65th and 70th minutes. In that five minute period, the USMNT brought Landon Donovan off the bench and Jamaica's Jermaine Taylor was sent off for denying Jermaine Jones a clear goal scoring opportunity, despite the fact that he did not contact Jones, who took a very obvious dive. With the Reggae Boyz down to 10 men and Landon Donovan on the field, the game was as good as over.
Clint Dempsey sealed Jamaica's fate in the 85th minute, scoring a skillful close-range goal. After surging down the right flank with the ball, Juan Agudelo put an impressive cross into the box, through the legs of his defender and in towards Dempsey. The attacking midfielder took a great touch to beat Ricketts, then tapped the ball into the back of the net, putting the United States ahead by 2-0.
Their opponent has not yet been determined, but the USMNT is probably licking their chops at the prospect of getting a revenge game against Panama, who defeated them earlier in the tournament. The other semifinal will be contested by Mexico and Honduras.
Jamaica's task looked tough at the start of the day, tougher when Jermaine Jones scored, and even tougher still when Landon Donovan came into the game as a substitute. Now, after going down to 10 men against the United States in their Gold Cup quarterfinal, their task appears to be next to impossible.
In the 68th minute, Jones dribbled through the center of the pitch showing off some speed that few even knew he possessed. He surged through the entire Jamaica team and appeared to be through on goal until Jermaine Taylor slid for the ball and Jones went down. Taylor completely missed and it was obvious on television replays that Jones dived, but the referee didn't see it that way and showed Taylor a straight red card for denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.
Down a goal and a man, it looks like Jamaica are headed for a Gold Cup exit. They've taken out Luton Shelton for Omar Daley in a defensive switch, responding to Taylor's sending off. Jones, who is on a yellow card and really walking the line, has since been substituted out for Maurice Edu.
After getting into the Washington D.C. area at 7 am ET this morning, Landon Donovan was left out of the starting lineup for today's match against Jamaica. In the 65th minute of their Gold Cup quarterfinal, the United States is up just 1-0 and looking for an insurance goal, and as a result, Landon Donovan has entered the game for Alejandro Bedoya.
Bedoya has had a very good game, but there's no question that Donovan is the more dangerous player when he's fit. After two flights and most likely a serious lack of sleep, a 90 minute run-out for Donovan would have been a serious stretch, but he's a great professional in great shape, and he can probably give his all for 25 minutes.
Jamaica looked very dangerous on the counter-attack in the first half, but it's been all USMNT in the second half so far. They might get even more defensive now that Donovan is on the pitch.
Jermaine Jones didn't have a great first half for the United States, but all it takes is a little bit of luck for a bad game to turn into a great game. After 45 minutes of frustration, the USMNT has finally broken through and scored the goal they deserved against Jamaica in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, going up by a score of 1-0. It was a lucky goal off of a deflection, but a goal is a goal and Jamaica are now left to chase the game.
Most thought that Jamaica would make some changes at halftime after a rough first half, but they came out with the same team and as a result, allowed the United States to dominated possession in the opening minutes of the second half just like they did in the first half. That lack of a change backfired in the 50th minute when Jones, in acres of space, ripped a shot from just outside of the penalty area. It deflected off a defender and went into the back of the net, giving Jamaica their first conceded goal of the tournament.
The United States has been the better team so far in their Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica, but with a lucky bounce or a composed shot here or there, the Reggae Boyz could very easily be ahead. Instead, Luton Shelton has been disappointing while goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts has been very good, and as a result the game is tied up at a score of 0-0 after 45 minutes.
Jamaica had the best chance of the game in the 4th minute when Ryan Johnson had a close-range shot saved by Tim Howard, then Shelton skied the rebound over the crossbar. It was an easy empty net chance, and an absolutely terrible miss. Shelton had another awful miss in the 30th minute, somehow failing to capitalize when Clarence Goodson fell down in the box, giving him a free shot at Howard that he wasn't able to take.
The game changed significantly in the 9th minute when Jozy Altidore went down with a hamstring injury and had to be substituted out. Chris Wondolowski is the closest thing to a like for like player that the USMNT has, but with him out of the 18 man squad, Juan Agudelo had to take Altidore's place. The youngster has played fine so far, but his skill set is obviously suited to something different than the United States' current 4-2-3-1 setup.
The USMNT has had numerous chances, all just missing or getting saved by Ricketts. It appears that a goal is coming soon for them, but Jamaica has occasionally looked dangerous on the counter-attack and they could nick a goal at any time as well.
After just nine minutes of today's Gold Cup quarterfinal match, United States striker Jozy Altidore appears to have suffered a relatively severe hamstring injury and has had to be substituted out of the match as a result. Juan Agudelo is the only striker on the bench for the USMNT, and as a result, he has entered the match. Agudelo has played more as a second striker than as a No. 9, so it will be interesting to see how he operates up top in this 4-2-3-1 formation.
The good news for the United States is that Jamaica is having some trouble dealing with this setup. They're playing with a three man back line and they seem a bit confused about who is supposed to be picking up the runs of Sacha Kljestan from midfield. The bad news, other than the fact that Altidore is injured, is that they left Chris Wondolowski out of the 18 man squad. He would almost certainly be the closest thing to a like for like replacement.
While the USMNT looked solid before Altidore went down, they had one very shaky moment in the 4th minute. After Dane Richards beat Eric Lichaj on the wing, the US back line looked completely disorganized and allowed Jamaica to create a couple of chances. From well inside the box, Ryan Johnson had a shot well saved by Tim Howard, and Luton Shelton skied a sitter on the rebound.
The United States plays a massive Gold Cup quarterfinal match against Jamaica today, but they won't be doing it with the most capped active player or with the country's all-time leading goal scorer. Following three very lackluster performances and a missed training session due to his sister's wedding - which he had permission to attend before the tournament started - Landon Donovan has been benched. Win or lose today, it's a good thing for the USMNT.
Bob Bradley has been accused on multiple occasions of favoritism, stubborn team selection, and hypocrisy when it comes to whether or not out of form players can get spots in his starting lineup. Bradley has maintained that the best players will play and that team selection is largely merit-based, and today he has stuck to that principal. Donovan is not playing well, while both Sacha Kljestan and Alejandro Bedoya are. Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo haven't proven that they deserve to start, so it makes sense to move Clint Dempsey inside. This move is a gutsy one by Bob Bradley, and it should be applauded.
Despite his benching, expect to see Donovan at some time today. It's quite possible that Donovan didn't get a good night's sleep after flying in and told the coach that Bedoya at 100 percent is better than him at 80 percent. Donovan doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would request to sit out a game if he can stand on two legs, but I wouldn't put it past him if he actually thought it was for the good of the team. He's not injured and he's still a great player, so a 30 minute run-out seems likely. Bedoya and Kljestan are both good players, but it would be a surprise to see both play at a very high level for 90 minutes.
Whether this is a case of Bradley sending a message that no player's place is safe or a case of Donovan giving up his starting spot because he knows he doesn't give the team the best chance to win when he isn't 100 percent, this team selection is a good thing for the United States, and a great sign that they're not completely reliant on Donovan and Clint Dempsey. Expect a completely fit and determined team to start the game against Jamaica, and expect a serious spark off the bench from Donovan in the second half.
Bob Bradley is up to his usual tricks, fielding the same old boring USA lineup he always... wait, what? It's the quarter-finals of the Gold Cup and Bradley has finally taken the lineup generator off autopilot, dropping the under-performing talisman Landon Donovan for RC Anderlecht's Sacha Kljestan. Not only that, Bradley has moved away from his favoured 4-4-2, going to a 4-2-3-1 with Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley in a double pivot.
It's a bold move from the typically conservative coach, but it might be just the thing to wake up team USA, who've looked in worrying form for much of the tournament so far. This system matches up with Jamaica's 4-3-3 far better than the usual shape, and it'll be fascinating to see how the USA match up against them now. Expect Donovan to appear at some point - he'll be royally pissed off and, one suspects, will take that out on the opposition.
United States (4-2-3-1): Tim Howard; Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra, Eric Lichaj; Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley; Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Clint Dempsey; Jozy Altidore.
We've officially entered into the "win or go home" stage of the 2011 Gold Cup and two more teams will complete the semifinals field on Sunday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. In the first quarterfinal, the United States will take on Jamaica at 3 p.m. Eastern. They'll be followed by Panama-El Salvador at 6 p.m. Both matches will be able to be seen live on TV in the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Time: 3 p.m.
Television: Fox Soccer (U.S - English), Univision (U.S. - Spanish), Sportsnet One, Setanta Sports Canada (Canada - English)
Time: 6 p.m.
Television: Univision (U.S. - Spanish), Sportsnet One, Setanta Sports Canada (Canada - English)
Unfortunately for U.S.-based viewers, the second match is only available in Spanish there. Like the other quarterfinals, these matches have sold out and should provide a quality atmosphere. The winners of these matches will face off in one semifinal, while Mexico will play Honduras in the other.
The United States will have their hands full when they face Jamaica in a Gold Cup quarterfinal on Sunday. That the Reggae Boyz have gotten this far should not be a huge surprise, as they are as talented as any CONCACAF team outside of the USA and Mexico. This is nothing new, though, as Jamaica always seems to have talent to spare.
As Black and Red United points out, this Jamaican team is different from many of their predecessors:
Unlike past Jamaica squads, who gained a deserved reputation for being direct, physical, and somewhat unfocused defensively, this edition plays a somewhat more cerebral game. That's not to say they play slow, possession-based soccer; they just think things through a little more and pay better attention to both sides of the ball. Credit for that has to go to head coach Theodore Whitmore, who was a player on Jamaica's one and only World Cup team in 1998.
Take a look at the three opponents that the United States has faced thus far in Gold Cup and you will see three teams that look nothing like Jamaica. In all three games, much like his entire reign as the United States men's national team, Bob Bradley has utilized a similar strategy. He's deviated from his preferred setup for some friendlies and for a couple of notable failures - the World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica at Saprissa being the worst - but these have been rare occasions. The 4-4-2 with two wide players who come inside and two deep-lying midfielders has been the USMNT staple, regardless of situation.
Against Canada, his strategy worked to perfection. So much of Canada's success is based around Dwayne De Rosario, and the United States' base strategy is great for denying him the ball. The result of the game was predictable, as the United States shut off supply to DDR and they won 2-0.
Panama and Guadeloupe play a similar style to the United States, but their game is based more on long balls up to the forwards than anything else, where as the United States tries to use their wingers as playmakers. With both teams playing a similar style to each other and the USMNT with a couple of deep lying midfielders, those areas of the pitch went unused, for the most part, in both games.
The results of both games weren't terribly surprising, though the loss to Panama was a bit of a shock. Unlike the match against Canada, the United States did not have any kind of serious tactical advantage in their next two games, and as a result, they looked very average. Against Jamaica, they will be coming up against a team that is nothing like the previous three that they have faced, and it will be interesting to see if Bob Bradley has a different plan.
Most people who follow the USMNT closely probably just thought 'no,' as Bradley seems tactically dogmatic at times. However, based on Jamaica's strengths, weaknesses, and tactical setup, Bradley should probably consider changing things up. Jamaica prefer a 4-3-3 setup where all of the midfielders have defensive responsibilities and the wingers pose the biggest threat going forward. This is likely a bad matchup for the United States' preferred setup. So, does Bradley have a change in strategy in mind?
Probably not, so United States fans are left hoping that talent wins out. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan will be the two most gifted players on the pitch, but if Jamaica is able to keep them in check, it's going to be a long day.
As disappointing as the group stage may have been for the United States, all will be forgiven if they can come through and win the tournament. Their path to the Gold Cup title begins on Sunday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. when they begin knockout stage play against Jamaica in the quarterfinals. With the way that the U.S. is playing though, getting past a surging Reggae Boyz will not be an easy task and is far from a certainty.
While the Americans may have entered the tournament as one of the two favorites, alongside Mexico, they looked nothing like a favorite in losing to Panama and an uninspiring 1-0 win over Guadeloupe. The group stage was ugly at best for the U.S. and now they have no margin for error. It is win or go home and for head coach Bob Bradley, that go home may be permanent. If the US. doesn't make it to the final of the tournament then he may lose his job.
Bradley may not like that idea, but Jamaica has to hate the idea of playing the U.S. in the quarterfinals even more. They were outstanding in the group stage, taking all nine points to win an admittedly weak Group B. The best team that Jamaica has put together since they qualified for the 1998 World Cup has been strong even without Omar Cummings and Ricardo Fuller.
As is always the case with Jamaica, they lean upon their supreme speed and athleticism. What has made this Jamaican team so dangerous though is their discipline. Previous editions of the Reggae Boyz have lacked discipline, shape and any sort of ability to build through the midfield. That's not the case with this Jamaican team. That's not to say they're particular technical or disciplined, but they are miles better than they usually are.
With Jamaica playing as well as they are, the U.S. will be tested. A slow footed centerback pairing of Clarence Goodson and Carlos Bocanegra will have to deal with the speedy Reggae Boyz. Jamaica also plays three at the back with a midfield that is often interchanging. It can be broken down, but only if teams are able to show some tactical acumen and make good runs. Neither is the strongest of areas for the U.S.
Meanwhile, nobody outside of Bradley is quite sure what team the U.S. will put out there. Will Juan Agudelo or Chris Wondolowski pair with Jozy Altidore up top? Might Clint Dempsey be pushed up there with Alejandro Bedoya stepping into the starting lineup? Will the U.S. continue to play two deep midfielders? All are questions heading into the match, but one thing is clear. Bradley has to be confident that the team he starts is the most effective one. He cannot continue to go with what he is comfortable with, see out the first 45 minutes and then make adjustments. Another poor start for the Americans and by the time they make the adjustments to get it together it could be too late.
In short, this is a match that the U.S. can and should win. They are superior to the Reggae Boyz, but they will be tested in areas where they have struggled in the past. They will have to show savvy and confidence up front and at the back. They'll need to be patient and pick apart a Reggae Boyz team that can be drawn out. If the U.S. continue to show impatience and a lack of culture in their play, they very well can go out.
Once the Americans and Jamaicans finish up play, Panama and El Salvador will have a go at it. The Panamanians pulled off the shock of the tournament in defeating the U.S. to win Group C. Luis Tejada and Blas Perez have proved deadly up top and Felipe Baloy is a fantastic defender, but there isn't much else there for Panama. Full credit goes to Julio Valdes, who has been tactically superb to this point and will need to be at the top of his game against on Sunday for Panama to take down El Salvador.
Nobody expected much from El Salvador this tournament, but they've held their own. They were demolished by Mexico, but El Tri demolished everyone in the group. A draw against Costa Rica was a very good result and they very nearly won the match. The question for them in this quarterfinal is whether their back line can handle Tejada and Perez. Their defense has been shaky thus far and there isn't a ton of quality back there so they are undoubtedly susceptible to being exposed by Panama's front two.
What was supposed to be a clear path for the U.S. to the final is no more. Now everyone thinks they can take down the Americans and rightly so. With a loss meaning the end of the line for everyone now every match will be filled with intensity and the quarterfinals, in front of a sold out crowd, will be the start of it.
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