Besides the fact that it ultimately advanced, virtually nothing had gone to plan for the United States in the 2011 Gold Cup heading into Sunday's quarterfinal showdown versus Jamaica.
The players had been manhandled in a 4-0 thrashing against world champion Spain in the run-up to the tournament. The squad then suffered an embarrassing 2-1 loss to a Panama in the first round. And the coach was criticized for allowing the team's two biggest stars — Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey — to attend their sibling's weddings Saturday, which meant that they missed training in the build-up to the match and may have been jet-lagged during it.
So as starting striker Jozy Altidore crumpled to the RFK Stadium field in the ninth minute after straining his left hamstring, that trend looked like it was going to continue.
But it didn't.
In the absence of Altidore — who had a team-high two goals in the tournament — other players stepped up. None more than Jermaine Jones. With the game scoreless in the 48th minute, the German-born bruiser unleashed a full volley that ricocheted off Jamaica's Eric Vernan and into the back of the net to give the U.S. its first goal in what would be a 2-0 victory.
"Jozy's played well thus far in this tourney, hopefully he'll still be available for us, but I think we've had different guys come through so far," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said. "Everybody is needed in this kind of tournament; this is a tough one ... so certainly we keep talking to our players that aren't getting the minutes ... because they'll all need to be ready."
This game proved that. And it wasn't only Jones who was up to the task versus the refined and revamped Reggae Boyz. Defender Eric Lichaj— a newly minted member of the U.S. national team, who was making one of his first appearances for the Stars and Stripes— was solid in defense. In attack, midfielder Clint Dempsey was a creative force. And Jones' central midfield partner, Michael Bradley, helped jump-start American attacks and neutralize Jamaica's offense.
"I think we've seen in recent games that the understanding in the center of the field between Jermaine and Michael has been good," Bradley said. "Certainly, Jermaine has a good engine and has the ability in certain moments to get forward and be a threat."
It wasn't just one moment, though; the Blackburn Rovers player was a threat all day. On top of the goal, Jones also broke through the defense in the 67th minute and was hauled back by Jamaican defender Jermaine Taylor with no one else between him and goalie Donovan Ricketts. Taylor was sent off for the infraction.
And, with the game falling on Father's Day, perhaps it was fitting that, after scoring, Jones— the son of a U.S. solider— ran toward the crowd and, with a beaming smile, saluted.
"It's always good to see those guys get rewarded," said goalkeeper Tim Howard.
That they did Sunday, and though the tournament already has tested the U.S., Howard said they wouldn't have it any other way.
"Nobody walks through a tournament in six or seven games games, you have natural ups and downs," Howard said. "But when you lift the trophy, that's what makes it special; it wouldn't be special if we walked through it."
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