How do you retain your buzz going after an electrifying win over your fiercest rival in entrance of a raucous house crowd?
How do you retain that momentum alive days later in a virtually empty stadium, on a pockmarked area, a thousand miles from house?
Those have been the questions for the United States males’s nationwide soccer group on Tuesday night time because it lined as much as face Jamaica in its eighth qualifying match for the 2022 World Cup, 4 days after an exhilarating, emotional victory over Mexico.
And for 90 or so minutes in Kingston, the Americans by no means actually got here up with solutions, trying largely spiritless in a 1-1 draw.
“That was a rough game, not the result that we wanted,” stated Timothy Weah, whose first-half purpose was a brilliant spot within the group’s in any other case lackluster night time. “Coming into the game, we wanted to win.”
U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter characterised the draw as an excellent consequence: a hard-earned level in a tricky surroundings on the highway. But he acknowledged the result might need fallen wanting a few of the gamers’ expectations.
It additionally ended their temporary keep atop the group standings in Concacaf. Canada beat Mexico, 2-1, in snowy Edmonton hours after the United States tied Jamaica. That victory despatched the Canadians within the high spot — for the second — as they attempt to qualify for his or her first World Cup since 1986.
Mexico slipped to 3rd, simply behind the United States, which can go to Canada in January. The high three groups within the group qualify mechanically for subsequent yr’s World Cup in Qatar. The fourth-place finisher can nonetheless make the sector via a playoff with a group from one other area.
Heading into the match, Berhalter stated, he had warned his younger gamers about letting their vitality ranges dip after their large win over Mexico.
“In the coaching world you talk about trap games,” Berhalter had stated. “You talk about putting that last game behind you, and the next game is the most important game.”
He referred to as Tuesday’s assembly in opposition to Jamaica a “massive game.” But neither the group’s play nor the environment mirrored that premise.
The stands have been largely empty on account of pandemic restrictions, and the match performed out on a dry, tattered area that grew more and more shredded because the minutes progressed.
On the ragged grass, every group was at the very least capable of every create one second of magnificence.
In the eleventh minute, a give-and-go with Ricardo Pepi despatched Weah skipping dangerously into the penalty space, the place a crowd of Jamaicans awaited. But Weah saved going, dancing via two defenders, preserving his steadiness whereas tiptoeing round a last-gasp problem, earlier than flicking the ball along with his left foot off the far submit and into the web.
Weah stated the sport held particular that means for him: While his father is the previous world participant of the yr George Weah, the present president of Liberia, his mom’s aspect of the household is Jamaican, and his aunt was on the recreation.
“My parents, they talked to me about it,” Weah stated earlier than the sport. “They said don’t go too hard on their country. But obviously business is business.”
Jamaica meant enterprise, too. Michail Antonio, the third-leading scorer within the English Premier League, evened the rating in thrilling trend solely 11 minutes later when he dribbled right into a cubbyhole of an area greater than 30 yards from the purpose and determined to blast a speculative shot towards the web. The ball sailed over the outstretched arms of the American goalkeeper, Zack Steffen, and below the crossbar, sparking cheers from the sparse, fortunately surprised crowd.
“It’s one of those goals where you just turn around and clap your hands and say, ‘Amazing goal, amazing individual effort,’” Berhalter stated.
Jamaica had been flat via the primary seven video games of World Cup qualifying, accumulating solely six factors of a doable 21. But the United States has traditionally struggled to make an impression in Kingston, having collected one win, one loss and 4 attracts in its earlier six World Cup qualifying video games in Jamaica earlier than Tuesday.
The Jamaicans lacked ambition and concepts at instances on offense, however they made up for it with a degree of physicality bordering on roughness. They appeared to take the lead within the dying minutes of the sport when Damion Lowe scored on a header. But he was whistled for a foul (a name that replays confirmed to be questionable) that negated the purpose.
The United States seemed pedestrian too, significantly within the midfield, the place the presence of Weston McKennie, who missed the sport due to yellow card accumulation, appeared to be missed.
“It was a great experience for our team to go through that,” stated Berhalter, who famous that the sector circumstances had disrupted a few of his group’s passing efforts, “but you can see the guys are disappointed.”
Christian Pulisic, who had scored in opposition to Mexico however continues to be working his manner again to health from a excessive ankle sprain, entered the sport in its place with about half an hour to go. Coming into the sport in the same state of affairs on Friday, he had headed within the go-ahead purpose.
But he didn’t conjure any salve for the Americans’ issues on Tuesday night time, leaving the United States questioning the place all of the vitality and urgency went.