USMNT settles for 1-1 draw with Jamaica in World Cup qualifier
On the U.S. team’s charter flights during this fall’s three World Cup qualifying windows, each player was offered a copy of a crossword puzzle, something they also receive every day at lunch. It’s a practice Gregg Berhalter began when he took over as coach three years ago so it seemed appropriate after Tuesday’s 1-1 draw with Jamaica that Berhalter was asked to choose one word to describe his team’s performance eight games into the tournament.
“Resilient is a really good word,” he answered. “We talk about the roller coaster that it is, but we just kept slowly and steadily climbing. We’ve been resilient.”
Lucky is also a good word since the U.S. was fortunate Costa Rican referee Juan Calderon whistled Jamaica’s Damion Lowe for a foul, wiping out the apparent game-winning goal he scored in the 84th minute.
Tim Weah, meanwhile, chose a different adjective: positive. And happy, which is actually two words. But he insisted.
“We just have to stay positive. Keep the positive energy in the group and just continue on,” he said. “We took a positive out of it in that we didn’t lose, we got a point out.
“I’m happy where we’re at right now.”
There’s certainly a lot to be happy about. The U.S. goes into the two-month winter pause 4-1-3 and second in the tournament standings, a point behind Canada, which beat Mexico 2-1 on two goals by Cyle Larin in 16-degree temperatures in snowy Edmonton.
Berhalter got the Americans there using the youngest, most inexperienced qualifying team in U.S. history.
The average age of his 11 starters Tuesday was three weeks shy of 23. He used an even younger lineup last month. Twenty-six men have made their qualifying debuts this fall and Berhalter has given starts to 30 different players.
The U.S. got a confidence boost from its third win over Mexico this calendar year and is eager to keep collecting World Cup qualifier victories.
Four years ago, when the U.S. failed to reach the World Cup, the average age of the lineup it used in its final game with Trinidad and Tobago was a few months short of 30. That’s not the only difference between the two teams said forward Paul Arriola, one of five men who played on both.
“Collectively we’re much more a group,” he said of the 2021 roster, which has already has five points from four road games, two better than the 2017 team got in the entire tournament.
“It’s really a brotherhood,” Arriola continued. “Everyone is on the same page and I think that’s the best part.”
That, too, is a product of the team’s age and relative inexperience since most of the players came up together.
“Everyone’s young. Everyone has the same things we talk about,” said defender Joe Scally, one of four teenagers on the roster. “You don’t have an older guy who has kids or something like that. We have a lot of similar traits.”
One of those youngsters got thing started Tuesday, with Weah putting the U.S. up 1-0 early in the first half.
Weah’s mother is Jamaican and he grew up attending Jamaican school in the Queens and spending vacations on the island. His father, George, a former world player of the year, is the president of Liberia. That left the younger Weah with his choice of four countries to represent internationally.
He chose the U.S., a decision Jamaica came to regret in the 11th minute when Weah, freed on a give-and-go with Ricardo Pepi, dodged Lowe then outmaneuvered Bobby de Cordova-Reid to bank a curving left-footed shot off the far post and in.
That spoiled a special night for Jamaica, which was celebrating the anniversary of the day it qualified for its only World Cup in 1997. Weah, 21, has no memory of that, having been born three years later.
Michail Antonio matched that with a spectacular goal of his own in the 22nd minute, booming a right-footed rocket over the outstretched hands of U.S. keeper Zack Steffen and under the crossbar from 35 yards out. Antonio’s shot was struck so hard it sounded like a gunshot in the cavernous National Stadium, where COVID-19 restrictions limited the crowd to 4,100.
The shot revived Jamaica. Once in danger of being run out of the game, the Reggae Boyz (1-3-4 and in sixth place) dictated the tempo for long stretches of the second half. And they were nearly rewarded for that when Lowe rose above the U.S. defense to nod in Leon Bailey’s corner kick with six minutes left in regulation.
But Calderon immediately waved off the goal, ruling that Lowe and fouled Zimmerman while going up for the ball.
While Mexico has struggled to weave in younger talent, the U.S. was free to try out new players after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
“I think he had his eyes on it from the beginning of the play,” Zimmerman said of the official, “Sometimes you don’t get that call. But I do think it was a foul. He hit me before hitting the ball.”
So while a point wasn’t what the U.S. wanted, it was certainly better than what they would have gotten had Calderon’s call gone the other way. And that reminded Berhalter of another word: perspective.
“We’re not looking at it as a disappointing result. We’re looking at as a good result,” said Berhalter, whose team needs a top-three finish to reach the World Cup. “Anytime you can get a point away from home is a good thing in CONCACAF qualifying.
“The message to the guys was, we want to end in first or second position in this window. We’re going to do that. And now we have six games left.”