The US play Jamaica on Wednesday (6 pm ET; FoxSports 1 | UniMas | Sportsnet World) in the Gold Cup semifinals. Historically, the US have dominated this series. That does not mean it will be easy.
The last four times these two teams have met in official competitions it's been very, very tight. Jamaica dropped a 2-1 win on the US on September 7, 2012 – a game in which Clint Dempsey scored seconds after kick-off, and the Yanks proceded to get played off the pitch for the subsequent 89 minutes. Four days later, the US produced a strong 60 minutes and a goal off a Herculez Gomez free kick, then held on for dear life for the final half-hour.
In the Hexagonal a year later, the US swept. Brad Evans got a stoppage-time goal in Kingston to give the US the tightest of 2-1 wins in June of that year, while in October late goals from Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore paved the way to a 2-0 win at Sporting Park.
So yeah, the US usually win against the Reggae Boyz. But not always.
Here's what to look for:
What they'll do: Pack it in
Jamaica have dispensed with all pretense under coach Winfried Schafer, who took over in July of 2013 – midway through the Hexagonal, but well after Jamaica had lost any hope of qualifying for the World Cup. They had been trying to come out and play toe-to-toe with most of the rest of CONCACAF to that point, and were getting stomped.
They don't come out to play anymore. Especially if they take an early lead, which is what happened against poor Haiti over the weekend:
Those are the Jamaican defensive interventions against the Haitians, and you could see they barely crossed the midfield stripe. This is by design.
How to solve it: Get out front early
The US have been put on the back foot pretty consistently in this tournament. Go back and watch the group-stage games and you'll see that all three teams (Honduras, Haiti and Panama) were able to set the tone and create the bulk of the early chances.
Jamaica will probably be less aggressive than that, and perhaps a bit more spread out defensively than they were on the weekend. If I'm Jurgen Klinsmann, I have Michael Bradley drop deep into midfield to try to coax the Reggae Boyz defense farther upfield, and then try to send runners through with those sweet, long diagonals.
And since Jamaica are probably too disciplined to fall for that, I consider going with my secret weapon from the start. If it's going to be a series of aerial duels, might as well bring in a ringer.
What they'll do: Run really freaking fast
I remember watching this happen:
"Damn," I thought. "I hope we don't have to face Giles Barnes in the Gold Cup." But we do.
Bear in mind a few things here. First is that Michael Bradley can move, but Barnes makes him look like he's stuck in mud. Second is that nobody else on Jamaica is capable of doing that on the ball, but all their wingers and overlapping fullbacks can fly (if they're allowed to push upfield). And third is that, often in continental tournaments, it comes down to who has the best player on the field, and who doesn't.
I know this because I've been watching Clint Dempsey. He was the difference between a date in the semifinals and a quick trip home for the US.
Barnes is good enough to write his own script as well.
How to solve it: Stop. Turning. The. Ball. Over. In. Bad. Spots.
I have six clips in my Streamable library labeled "Chandler bad turnover":
He's been the whipping boy, but he's hardly the only one who's been guilty of less-than-sharp play on the ball. Bradley has struggled with his short passing, while Kyle Beckerman has finally started to look maaaaybe a little bit like Father Time is catching up with him. This is all the more worrying since fast and physical teams are the ones that Beckerman has traditionally struggled against.
EDIT: As pointed out here, I neglected to mention the best example of this:
They'll both need to be sharp. Chandler and Fabian Johnson will need to be sharp, and – of course – the central defense (my guess is John Brooks and Ventura Alvarado) will need to show a bit more know-how and composure than they've been able to conjure thus far.
If they don't, Barnes and the rest of the Jamaican attack will be off at an uncatchable sprint heading in the other direction.
What's it mean for the US?
Jurgen says relax:
last game vs Jamaica took lots of patience! Finally in minute 77 we scored: https://t.co/erxXrorkDS— Jürgen Klinsmann (@J_Klinsmann) July 22, 2015