Following the 2010 World Cup, Bob Bradley flirted with permanently altering the U.S. formation to a 4-5-1, a system that put the most of the best American players on the field. That never quite panned out, largely because currently no striker can adequately fill the lone striker role.
However, with his team looking stale and in danger of being dumped out of the Gold Cup early, Bradley abandoned his 4-4-2 for something a little more tactically versatile.
It paid off. The U.S. won 2-0 and in relatively straightforward fashion. Here's three more tactical observations from the match:
1. Jamaica struggled to cope with the U.S. midfield
The extra man in midfield - essentially schemer Sacha Kljestan, who had a subtly effective game - and a gulf in individual class – most of Jamaica's lineup hailed from either MLS or Norway – meant that the U.S. dominated possession. Michael Bradley in particular saw ample time on the ball to pick out the right pass, despite Jason Morrison nominally pushed up to mark him. By the time the halftime whistle blew, the Americans had played 166 passes in the opposition half, a full 101 more than Jamaica had, according to Opta Stats.
Building on the possession, the U.S. midfield runners enjoyed a good deal of success at unbalancing Jamaica's defense. Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya popped up frequently between the lines or around the Jamaican backline to collect through-balls. Dempsey took an impressive six shots on target, with LA Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts somehow pulling off a staggering 10 saves, many of them of the highest quality.
Even with Jamaica's wide forwards (Dane Richards and Luton Shelton) dropping into the midfield, Jamaica always looked outnumbered in the center of the field, and U.S. players never had to rush under pressure.
2. Jamaica's attack was oddly stagnant
For a team built on fluidity and pace in attack, Jamaica was oddly stagnant and ponderous. Shelton, the nation's all-time leading goalscorer, never dared stray more than a few yards away from the comfort of the sideline. Richards drifted a little farther infield, but even he struggled to combine with his teammates near the U.S. box.
Much of the problem was Ryan Johnson, who spent most of the match walking idly from defender to defender, hardly bothering to apply pressure or supply an outlet for when his team did have the ball.
The wide midfielders didn't help issues. Demar Philips and Eric Vernan slowly retreated closer and closer to their backline, until Theodore Whitmore's side resembled a 5-4-1 much more than its supposed 3-4-3. Regardless, gone was the promised pace and slick interchanging in attack, and the Reggae Boyz's best chances came from failed U.S. offside traps.
3. Jozy Altidore's injury didn't hurt the USA
When Altidore pulled up with a strained hamstring after only 10 minutes, the only one hurt was himself. The injury was unfortunate for the first-choice striker, but Altidore has struggled to cope as the lone forward in the past. The Villarreal player still hasn't figured out how to use his unparalleled size and power to operate alone effectively, and he doesn't score enough goals to safely drop the second striker.
In came Juan Agudelo, who has maturing obstacles of his own (runs into blind alleys in particular) and who understandably took some time to bed into the match. But the New York Red Bull striker connected all 11 of his attempted passes in the first half and ended up with the assist on the second goal.
Agudelo tends to take up different positions than Altidore would, often drifting to the sides or into the midfield to provide an available option or just to approach the backline from a different angle. That movement gave the American attack an interchangeability which produced 18 shots (12 on target), even if Agudelo's game overall wasn't all that dangerous.
Even if Altidore's injury isn't serious, Bob Bradley might be tempted to stick with Agudelo as the lone striker in the semifinal.
Zac Lee Rigg is an editor of Goal.com. Send him doting poetry or compliment his fluttering eyelashes through email or Twitter.
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