On Sunday, the United States Men’s National Team drew Serbia 0-0 in Bruce Arena’s return. In the second game of 2017, the U.S. beat Jamaica 1-0 in front of 17,903 at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, TN.
Arena sent his team out against the Reggae Boyz with not only a different formation from a week ago, but he also changed eight players in the starting XI. Only Graham Zusi and Steve Birnbaum remained from the match against Serbia. Zusi also wore the captain’s arm band for the first time for his country, while Walker Zimmerman got his first ever cap.
The first real chance of the game came off of a U.S. corner in the sixth minute. Benny Feilhaber took the in-swinger and Dax McCarty ran onto it towards the six-yard box, but the header narrowly went over the bar.
Three minutes later, the U.S. would get a free kick from about 35 yards out after Jamaica’s Ewan Grandison had a late tackle on Sebastian Lletget, which earned the midfielder the first card of the game. Feilhaber took the free kick, which fell to Birnbaum on the right side of the box. Birnbaum headed it in towards the penalty spot, but it was defended by Jamaica.
The Yanks earned another opportunity in the 19th minute when Lletget made a great run down left side, before putting in low cross. The ball went right to Juan Agudelo who had the chance to put U.S. up a goal but it was a poor chance from the New England forward and the shot went wide for a goal kick.
There was a scary moment in the 25th minute as Chris Pontius and Cory Burke were both down and the benches of both teams were yelling for the official to stop play. Pontius and Burke ran into each other and each had a hard landing, but after the medical staff came on both players were able to get up and they were fine.
Jamaica got their first chance of the game after McCarty and Ponitus had a miscommunication in the 34th minute which led to a turnover. Burke used his speed to beat Zusi down the line and whipped in a left-footed shot/cross. Luis Robles made the save but deflected the ball right into Romario Williams, who couldn’t find the target.
In the 37th minute, Agudelo headed a ball onto Jordan Morris to put Morris one-on-one with Andre Blake. The best keeper in MLS won out against the Rookie of the Year, and the save deflected out for a corner. Feilhaber took the corner again, this time keeping the ball on the ground. It fell to Dax at top of the 18-yard box, who took one touch to find Lletget. Lletget took a left-footed shot that bent in towards the goal, but it was just a bit too hard and Blake watched it curl just wide of his post for a goal kick.
The first half ended as it started, 0-0. The U.S. held over 70% of the possession, out-shot Jamaica 6-1, and had four corners to Jamaica’s none, but once again could not find the last pass and fell apart in the final third. Zusi once again stood out as one of the best players for Team USA, as well as Feilhaber and Dax.
To start the second half, both teams made a change in net as David Bingham came on for the U.S. and Ryan Thompson went on for Jamaica.
In the 53rd minute, Jamaica fashioned its first opportunity of the second half. Grandison put a ball into the six-yard box from the right side, but Walker Zimmerman defended it well and the ball went out for corner. The first ball from the corner was too long, and second ball in was a high shot over the crossbar to keep the game goalless.
Immediately on the other side, Zusi got into the box and put a shot in. Thompson saved it and knocked it out for a corner. On the corner, Birnbaum had a perfect chance to take the lead but he mistimed his jump and missed the ball completely on his header attempt. He recovered though, and attempted a point-blank shot right at the keeper and the game remained stuck at 0-0.
It took 149 minutes into Bruce Arena’s return for his team to finally find the back of the net. In the 59th minute, McCarty put a great through ball in the center of the field to Fielhaber. Fielhaber then played two-touch soccer with Morris back and forth to move the ball straight through the Jamaican defense before Morris slotted the ball home for his second international goal. The USMNT had finally broken the tie and went up, 1-0. After the goal, Michael Bradley and Darlington Nagbe substituted on for Feilhaber and Dax, respectively.
Jamaica had a chance to tie the game in the 77th minute off a corner. The ball went to a good location around the penalty spot but nothing came of it and the U.S. won a goal kick.
The Reggae Boyz tried to put the pressure on the USMNT in the closing stages of the game but the American defense was too strong on this night. Morris’ lone goal was enough to win it for the U.S. as the Yanks closed out their January camp on a positive note. Also, this game was a historical moment for Michael Bradley on a personal level:
Congrats are in order for Michael Bradley!— U.S. Soccer (@ussoccer) February 4, 2017
With this appearance, the captain moves into sole possession of 5th on our all-time cap list. pic.twitter.com/CNCY4dZiJg
Zimmerman not only got his first cap for his country, but was named the Man of the Match. While he may not get a start against Honduras, he may have done enough to push himself onto the roster. Darlington Nagbe, who only played the last half hour, made an impact on both ends of the field once again. The Zusi-at-right-back experiment has to be marked as a success through Camp Cupcake, and Arena will no doubt be looking at him there for The Hex.
For Bruce Arena 2.0, it has to be marked as a success to start. There was nothing spectacular about today’s performance, but the Yanks were solid at the defensive end and the midfield played better than it has in a long time. The U.S. held 70% possession and did not allow Jamaica a shot on goal.
It is now time to get ready for those qualifiers. The U.S. currently sits in last place in The Hex and needs to win out to put any doubt about qualifying for Russia behind them. Circle those calendars because March 24 will be here before you know it.