Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts showed why he is still one of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer Sunday against the United States in their Gold Cup quarter final match at RFK Stadium. He got a great, and probably somewhat expected workout but even he was not good enough to repel the better Americans for an entire match as they finally broke through with a 2-0 win on two second half goals.
The United States will now have a rematch with Panama in the semi-finals at Reliant Stadium in Houston on Wednesday. Panama, who won their group, came from behind to defeat El Salvador 2-1 on penalty kicks in the second match of the day.
United States coach Bob Bradley left Landon Donovan out of the starting eleven after the star returned at 7:30 am this morning from his sister’s wedding the previous day in California.
Clint Dempsey also attended his own sister’s wedding the previous night but returned and played the full 90-minutes while Donovan, who admittedly said he would not have been able to go the full time, came on in the 65th minute.
After the team’s strong day of training on Friday according to Bradley, they put on by far their best performance of the tournament, limiting the spirited and athletic Jamaican side to the occasional direct ball down the line out of the midfield.
With very little else tactically to offer and threaten the American side, the onslaught began about midway through the first half and continued basically the rest of the match.
“I thought we had our best training session so far on Friday; very sharp, good energy, good with the ball, the ball was moving quickly that day,” said Bradley. “That was a good sign and I think some of that came out today.
“We just felt the way they defend that we could play a lot of passes and make their defenders have to make decisions on who they would step to and that our ability to move the ball for 90-minutes would control the game and also create chances.”
“Yeah, no question,” added Donovan when asked if he thought this was his team’s best game in the tournament. “It was complete. We passed the ball well, we defended well, it was enjoyable to watch for 60-minutes on the bench and it was nice to come into as well, the team was flowing well.”
Despite dominating the possession throughout, it took an unfortunate deflection on an attempted block shot for the damn to finally open for the United States in the 49th minute.
“I think we were able to do a good job from the start of establishing control, passing the ball, keeping the ball moving and ultimately it took a while to get the goal and the second goal but in terms of establishing our game today I think we did an excellent job,” said Bradley.
Jermaine Jones’ one timer from 30-yards deflected off the foot of Jermaine Taylor as he attempted to block the shot and skittered past Ricketts who had dived in the other direction. Jamaica had done well to repel yet another strong American flank attack but the original clearance went directly into the path of Jones who took the shot in stride.
With this being his first for the National Team and coming on Father’s Day, he celebrated by rendering a respectable version of a military salute in deference to his father, a U.S. Military service member. Jones, 29, speaks very little English having been born in, and lived most of his life, in Germany after his parents divorced and he moved back to live with his German mother.
“The first time you score for the National Team is always special and even more so that it was a very important goal today and hopefully a few more will come,” said Jones through a translation by Steve Cherundolo. “It was a nice little gift for my father on Father’s day, who is a soldier, it was a nice sign of respect.”
Taylor’s struggles with Jones continued in the 67th minute when the defender hauled Jones down from behind as the last man some 30-yards from goal, earning a straight red card from Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez.
The original attack that led to the goal was a simple continuance of play from the first half for the United States who had no less than eight good opportunities in the last quarter hour of that first stanza highlighted by a bicycle kick by Dempsey from near the penalty spot that went just over the top in the 40th minute.
That was followed a minute later by a header by Alejandro Bedoya, who started in Donovan’s stead until he was replaced, off a nice combination play down the right flank by Cherundolo and Juan Agudelo.
Agudelo came on in the 12th minute for Jozy Altidore who injured his left hamstring a few minutes earlier.
Agudelo followed that chance with a strong low shot from inside the box that Ricketts got down well to save but could only push to the back side, but a clumsy Jones follow up went wide. That was followed two minutes later when Eric Lichaz was sent through with a crafty ball from Michael Bradley that Ricketts got down brilliantly again to knock away.
“We certainly didn’t want to let them play, we wanted to close them down and force them to play long and that is kind of what happened today and when we did recover the ball, we wanted to be bright and made sure they worked hard defensively to get the ball back because any time they spend defending means the less energy they have to go forward and use their physical talents,” Said Cherundolo.
The U.S settled back in to their simple possession game, knocking the ball around on the hot afternoon as Jamaica fervently chased the game.
Clint Dempsey capped the scoring in the 80th minute stepping around the beleaguered Ricketts for an easy tap in off a ball from Juan Agudelo from the right side of the penalty area. Donovan sent the young Agudelo through with an excellent ball thru the back line from the top of the box, drawing the stretched Jamaican defense, allowing an easy ball across to a wide open Dempsey.
“They were pushing us around and we gave (Michael) Bradley too much space and that hurt us,” said Jamaican coach Theodore Whitmore.
The United States played with five in the midfield and one lone striker and Jamaica did not adjust well.
“I think it confused them a little bit and I don’t think Jamaica were ever comfortable. We took them out of what they like to do. In their first three games they had a lot of time to do what they wanted with the ball and we wanted to make sure they didn’t have that and I thought our guys did a really good job with that,” said Donovan.
Wedding Vows Galore
Bob Bradley’s decision to let three of his players, including Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey attend their sister’s weddings was certainly a difficult one but one born from his own experience.
His brother Scott, a back-up catcher for the Chicago White Sox at the time, was set to be the best man at his wedding 25-years ago. However, he was traded to Seattle just before the wedding so a decision had to be made.
“I called him and said, be with your team, your brother Jeff is going to pinch hit for you,” Bradley said.
So despite the potential second guessing, despite his perilous job situation and the fact his team has never finished worse than 3rd in the 11 tournament history of the Gold Cup, he let two of his best players and 3rd goaltender, Brad Guzan, go to these important family functions.
“I’ve never been second guessed,” Bradley joked with veteran New York Times columnist and soccer writer George Vecsey.
“There are times when players come to you with personal requests and as a coach you have an idea of how things should be done and that is especially true in a National Team, you try and hold the bar as high as you can but at the same time understanding them, what family means to them, you have to sometimes weigh things and make decisions.”
Bradley continued on a serious note, “Ultimately after speaking at different points with Landon and Clint, I knew how important both of these days were for them, we were fortunate that we were playing on the 19th and not the 18th because I don’t think they were going to switch the weddings.”
Donovan did not return from California until 7:30 am on Sunday, 7 ½ hours or so before the match while Dempsey returned from Texas the night before. Dempsey played the full 90-minutes and scored the insurance goal in the 80th minute while Donovan came on in the 65th minute to replace Alejandro Bedoya, who was excellent filling in for U.S. talisman.
“It meant a lot to me and Clint. I know we get caught up in the soccer world, but there are things that are equally, if not more important to a lot of us and I am very grateful that Bob and US Soccer made all the efforts to not only let us go, but to get us here so we could contribute today,” said Donovan.
Asked if he could have gone the full 90-minutes? “I would highly doubt it given everything that happened,” said Donovan.