United States 2-0 Jamaica: US dominate centre

June 19, 2011

The line-ups after Altidore's early departure

A deflected strike from Jermaine Jones and a cool Clint Dempsey finish put the US into the semi-finals of the Gold Cup.

Bob Bradley left out Chris Wondolowski and Landon Donovan, bringing in Sacha Kljestan behind Jozy Altidore, and Alejandro Bedoya on the right. He was dealt an early blow with Altidore’s injury, meaning Juan Agudelo had to replace him upfront.

Theodore Whitmore made various changes to his side having rested players for his final group game. Jamaica ended up in a relatively defensive-minded 3-4-3 shape.

Bradley’s side dominated possession but took half an hour to start using the ball effectively, having been slow and unambitious with their passing early on. In the second half, they committed more players forward and forced the breakthrough.

Early stages

The teams played in front of each other in the opening minutes of the game – both sides got ten men behind in the ball in their own half when out of possession, and coupled with the slow passing on show from both midfields, goals looked unlikely.

Jamaica’s problem was that they generally had 3 v 1 at the back, which then created a shortfall in midfield – where the US could gather bodies, pass around Jamaica’s midfield, and dominate possession of the ball. Bradley has long favoured playing his wide midfielders narrow – the US formation has often looked like 4-2-2-2 under his management – and this simply emphasised the US dominance in the middle of the pitch, sometimes creating as much as 4 v 2 or 5 v 2 in that zone (see below).

The Jamaica wing-backs stayed on the flanks and retreated quickly into a five-man defence, which meant Jamaica had plenty of men in the box to defend crosses, but the workload for Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin further forward was simply too great.

Jamaica in possession

However, there was some promising moments for Whitmore’s side early on. This mainly involved long diagonal passes from Austin out to the pacey Dane Richards on the right wing. With Dempsey playing advanced and narrow, and therefore offering little support to Eric Lichaj, Richards often had 1 v 1 situations against the Aston Villa full-back, and created a couple of decent chances early on – Luton Sheldon played narrower on the opposite flank, often becoming a second striker.

Jamaica were only likely to prosper through quick breaks down that side. As a whole, their side was ‘broken’ – seven defending, three attacking. There was little support from the wing-backs, and neither of the central midfielders were willing to vacate a zone Jamaica were already overloaded in. Kljestan drifted around to the channels when the US had the ball, but was disciplined in moving onto one of Jamaica’s central midfielders when out of possession.

As the game went on, Richards was less of an attacking threat, but his battle against Lichaj was the key contest. Richards appeared completely unwilling to track back at some points, which meant that when Dempsey moved inside and brought Eric Vernan slightly narrow, Lichaj had space to motor into on the overlap – although service didn’t always arrive.

Second half

The key tactical feature of the game - Jamaica used only two central midfielders, and with the US' wide players narrow and an attacking midfielder also drifting into that zone, they often had 4 v 2 or 5 v 2 in the midfield zone

The opening goal was fortunate – Jones’ strike took a huge nick off a defender on the way in – but the goal reflected the balance of play, and also the key tactical shift as the game went on. Jones started off playing deep in a double pivot alongside Michael Bradley, but once the US had worked out that they didn’t really need two holders as Jamaica had no attacking threat from the centre of midfield, Jones pushed on and drove the US forward.

In addition to the goal, he also made the powerful forward run which forced Jermaine Taylor into a ‘last man’ foul, and a resulting red card.

That was a shame, because a couple of minutes before Jamaica went down to ten men, they had brought Jevaughn Watson on for Vernan, and seemed to briefly go to something more like 4-4-2, with Shelton coming to the left, Williams going further forward, Adrian Reid going to right-back and Demar Phillips to left-back. There wasn’t enough time to judge the new system before the red card, however.

Jamaica just about coped with ten men – a vague 4-3-2 system that overworked their already-tired midfield held up reasonably well – but constant substitutions played havoc with the organisation at the back, and the US were able to work 3 v 3 situations quickly once Donovan came on to provide another attacking threat.

The US were able to break through the Jamaica defence increasingly easily – Whitmore ordered them to push up but with no pressure on the ball, it was a tactic unlikely to bring rewards, and Dempsey’s neat finish wrapped up the game.


The problems of having 3 v 1 at the back have been discussed many times on ZM before, but this was an interesting game because the US wide players played narrow, as ‘interiores’, in Spanish terms (see Villarreal). This gave the Jamaica wing-backs considerable difficulties, and created a huge overload in the centre of midfield.

The difference in technical quality meant that Bradley’s side were always likely to eventually create goalscoring chances, and Jamaica’s transitions from defence to attack weren’t good enough to provide a consistent attacking threat on the break.

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