US Takes 3 Games in Hex, Leads Group

By Steve Kinkead

The US Men’s National Soccer Team won all three of its 2014 World Cup qualifying games in June, putting them in front of the six team CONCACAF group. Over the course of twelve days, the US Men defeated Jamaica 2-1, Panama 2-0 and Honduras 1-0. After six games, the US has 13 points, leading Costa Rica on 11 and Mexico at 8. Four games are left to play in the region, with the top three teams automatically qualifying for next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil. The fourth place team, currently Honduras with 7 points, plays a home and home playoff with New Zealand for the final qualifying spot.

The US Men opened the three-game stretch with a June 7th matchup in Kingston, Jamaica at the National Stadium, commonly known as The Office. Jozy Altidore, fresh from scoring 31 goals last season for his Dutch side AZ Alkmaar, got the US on top in the 30th minute. He headed home a cross from Graham Zusi on the right wing, putting the US in the lead until the 89th minute. Jamaica’s Jermaine Bickford got behind the US defense for a tying header off a free kick and it looked like the US would come away with just a point. In stoppage, though, it was Brad Evans scoring his first National Team goal for the winner. The US won a corner on the left, and Michael Bradley played a one-two with Zusi. Bradley hit a short ball in to an unmarked Evans at the edge of the box, who turned and, falling backward, swept the ball in the far side netting to earn all the points for the visitors.

Just four days later in Seattle and the US faced a determined, but undermanned, Panama team. The game was played on freshly laid grass at CenturyLink Field in front of over 40,000 raucous fans. The US started strong with several opportunities and at least one legitimate penalty shout, but it took until the 36th minute of play for them to get on the board. Michael Bradley started the play with a run through the middle before hitting the ball wide to a flying Fabian Johnson on the left. Hitting the ball with his first touch, Johnson sent a perfect low cross in front of the goal. Clint Dempsey was making a strong run into the box and drew the defenders and goalie out, and the ball found Jozy Altidore coming to the back post for the goal. Altidore’s third goal in as many games for the US proved to be the winner, but the home side wasn’t satisfied.

Hometown favorite Eddie Johnson, starting for the suspended Zusi, scored off a long pass from central midfielder Geoff Cameron, who was starting for the injured Jermaine Jones. Cameron picked up the ball deep in the US half and spotted Johnson on the right wing. He hit the ball over the defenders and Johnson, timing his run perfectly, had only the keeper to beat. The final scoreline could have been greater for the US, but Demarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey both hit the frame and it ended at 2-0.

Finishing up the June qualifiers on the 18th, the US took on Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, the home of MSL side Real Salt Lake. Honduras played solid defense on a hot evening, looking for the occasional break and frustrated the US for most of the game. Once again, though, it was Jozy Altidore coming up big with a 73rd minute goal. Scoring in his fourth consecutive national team game, Altidore hit a left-footed strike into the lower right corner after Fabian Johnson played the ball in for him. This was the only goal and helps set up the US as it faces a tough stretch in its next two qualifying games in September against Costa Rica and Mexico.

Next up for the US is a game against Guatemala before the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, then the team heads to Sarajevo for a friendly in August against Bosnia-Herzegovina. World Cup Qualifying resumes in September with two tough games. On September 6 the men travel to Costa Rica, following that with a home tilt against Mexico on the 10th in Columbus. Barring a playoff, the final two qualifying games are in October against Jamaica in Kansas City and at Panama.

One thought on “US Takes 3 Games in Hex, Leads Group

  1. I think it is an oversimplification to say that Jozy has been satvred of service in the past 18 months. Service and support depend upon both the receiver and the suppliers. Some forwards always seem to get better service than others, regardless of the team they play for. Others seem to score in bunches when the team gets them the ball in a particular way. Jozy is becoming better finding spaces, seeing the game before it develops and making it easier for the service to find him. The goal against Panama at the back post was the result of more sophisticated understanding of the options Fabian Johnson had in the situation. In days gone by he would not have arrived at the back post in time and we would be watching another great cross to nobody. The goal against Honduras was another example of seeing the pocket of space and arriving soon enough to compose himself and finish off the play. In the past Jozy would not have been prepared to place the shot just inside the far post. We would have seen another great opportunity die at his feet.What appears to be lazy play by a forward can be the result of lack of effort or lack of the ability to see what will happen next. I think Jozy has been a hard worker who has learned to see the spaces to attack sooner. Playing for a team AZ has been perfect for him because he gets a ton of chances to learn. Early on he did the same sort of confused Jozy things there that he did with the US team before. This is why it is very important to make sure players do not wear the US jersey until they become proficient at the club level. Not all players will develop the way Jozy has done if they are handed the US jersey before they have proven themselves.Credit to Jozy because he has done what players like Adu have not been mature enough to do.

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