Thanks to this absolute laser by Jozy Altidore, the US beat Guadeloupe to advance to the knockout round of the 2011 Gold Cup. Despite this victory, the US finished second in their group and drew Jamaica in the quarterfinals. On current form, this could be an extremely tough game for the Yanks. The Reggae Boyz have been one of the most impressive sides in the tournament, while the Yanks have underperformed.
The United States failed to win its group for the first time in Gold Cup history. As Group C runner-up, the United States faces Group B winner Jamaica, the only team other than Mexico to win all of its group games. USA has reached the semis in nine of the 10 previous tournaments, while Jamaica hasn’t reached the semifinals since 1998. Despite tournament form, SPI rates USA an 83.9 percent favorite to advance and extend its unbeaten (9-0-8) record against the Reggae Boyz. Jamaica has lost all four of its Gold Cup elimination games.1
Clearly, the SPI algorithm thinks the US will be able to overcome its malaise and put in the kind of performance American fans expect.
Goalkeeper – Tim Howard has been stellar for years and cannot be blamed for the loss to Panama. He is one of the best keepers in England and arguably the world. The US is lucky to have him guarding their goal. Donovan Ricketts has been a rock in goal during the tournament, leading a defense that has yet to concede. He’s also posted 6 clean sheets for the L.A. Galaxy this season. Despite this good form, this comparison is simple. One of the best in the MLS vs. one of the best in the EPL. Advantage: USMNT
Defense – The Jamaican defense has yet to concede a goal, though part of that is probably thanks to the impotent competition they faced in the group stage. Jamaica’s defense should not be discounted as three of the four starters play in MLS and they have paired well together all tournament. Shavar Thomas, Jermaine Taylor, Dicoy Williams and Eric Vernan have all played well. The US has struggled to find the right combination to start along the back. Tim Ream looked out of his depth playing against Panama and Oguchi Onyewu is still lacking in form and hasn’t made an appearance. Not without their struggles against Guadeloupe, expect the back four of Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Carlos Bocanegra and Eric Lichaj to be in the Starting XI on Sunday. On paper it would seem the US, with defenders from the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, the Premier League and the Danish League, has a better defense, but Jamaica is hot and is playing well as a unit. Advantage: Push
Midfield – Jamaica’s midfield has been on fire during the tournament. Demar Phillips, who plays his club soccer with Ålesund in Norway, has scored three goals in three games. Dane Richards has been a terror on the wing. Jason Morrison and Rodolph Austin, both of the Norwegian Tippeligaen have also put in solid efforts. The US midfield should be its strength. With Landon Donovan on the left and Michael Bradley in the center the Yanks have two midfielders who have proven they can play at the top club level. Who lines up on the right and in the center next to Bradley is a different story. Jermaine Jones has not played his best during the Gold Cup, though Bob Bradley seems to be enamored with the former German under-20 international. Clint Dempsey has lined up on the right, but as stated in a previous post, his best position for the USMNT may be up top. Alejandro Bedoya has provided a spark off the bench and Sascha Kljestan has reignited his international career with a good showing. Again, the US has a better midfield on paper, but the Reggae Boyz have been on fire this tournament. Advantage: USMNT
Forwards – Another area where the USMNT has better players on paper – if you include Clint Dempsey. As with players across the rest of the pitch, the Jamaican forwards have had a great tournament. Led by San Jose Earthquakes striker, Ryan Johnson, the Jamaican front line has both scored goals and set up Jamaica’s lethal wingers. Providing support for Johnson are Keammar Daley who plies his trade in the Jamaican Premier League and Luton Shelton of Norwegian side Vålerenga IF. Both have scored and assisted in Jamaica’s group games. On the opposite side of the pitch, Jozy Altidore has looked great this tournament. While still prone to lapses in concentration, he has provided 2 of the US’s 4 goals and assisted on another. His wonder strike against Guadeloupe should have him feeling confident. The rest of the US forward contingent has been less than stellar. Chris Wondolowski has been wasteful in front of goal (see this video) and Juan Agudelo is still learning. With Bob Bradley seemingly unable to imagine Clint Dempsey as a forward, the US could be in trouble. Advantage: Jamaica
Coaching Staff – Let’s not even go there…
On paper, the US has better players than Jamaica. More US players play in the top leagues around the world than the current Jamaican squad. On form, the Jamaican squad is playing better than the USMNT, though they were in the easiest of the three groups. Is Jamaica’s form entirely due to its easy group, or are they a team to be reckoned with? The USMNT, its fans and the rest of CONCACAF will know the answer on Sunday afternoon.
Prediction – Jamaica will make it tough, but I expect the real US team to show up for this game. USMNT 2 – Jamaica 1.