NYT > Sports
How do you keep your excitement going after an electrifying win against your fiercest rival in front of a noisy home crowd?
How do you keep that momentum alive days later in an almost empty stadium, on a pockmarked field, a thousand miles from home?
Those were the questions for the US men’s national soccer team, who faced Jamaica in their eighth qualifying game for the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday evening, four days after an exciting, emotionally stressful win over Mexico.
And for 90 minutes in Kingston, the Americans never really got any answers and looked mostly mindless in a 1-1 draw.
“That was a tough game, not the result we wanted,” said Timothy Weah, whose goal in the first half was a ray of hope on the team’s otherwise lackluster night. “When we got into the game, we wanted to win.”
US coach Gregg Berhalter described the result as good: a hard-earned point in a difficult environment on the road. However, he admitted that the result may have fallen short of what the players expected.
At the beginning of the game he had warned her not to lose her energy after the big win against Mexico.
“In the coaching world, they talk about traps,” he said. “You talk about leaving the last game behind you and the next game is the most important game.”
He called this meeting against Jamaica a “massive game”.
But neither the team’s game nor the atmosphere reflected this premise.
The stands were mostly empty due to the pandemic restrictions, and the game was played on a dry, tattered field that became more and more torn as the minutes passed.
On the rugged grass, each team could create at least a moment of beauty.
In the 11th minute, when Ricardo Pepi gave up, Weah slipped dangerously into the box, where a crowd of Jamaicans waited. But Weah kept going, dancing through two defenders, keeping his balance as he shuffled around a challenge on tiptoe before throwing the ball off the long post into the net with his left foot.
Weah said the game meant something special to him: his mother’s family are Jamaican, and his aunt was at the game.
“My parents talked to me about it,” said Weah before the game. “They said don’t be too harsh on their country. But obviously business is also business. ”
Jamaica also meant business. Third top scorer in the English Premier League, Mikhail Antonio tantalizingly equalized the result just 11 minutes later when he dribbled into a hole more than 30 yards from goal and decided to take a speculative shot into the net. The ball rushed over the outstretched arms of the American goalkeeper Zack Steffen and under the crossbar, causing cheers from the sparse, happily stunned crowd.
“It’s one of those goals where you just turn around, clap your hands and say, ‘Amazing goal, amazing individual performance,'” said Berhalter.
Jamaica were flat in the first seven games of World Cup qualifying and had only collected six points. But the United States has struggled in the past to exert influence at Kingston after recording just one win, one loss and four draws in its last six World Cup qualifiers in Jamaica before Tuesday.
On the offensive, the Jamaicans lacked ambition and ideas at times, but they made up for it with a physicality bordering on roughness. They seemed to be taking the lead in the final minutes of the game when Damion headed Lowe. But he was whistled for a foul (which turned out to be questionable on replays) that negated the goal.
The United States also appeared sluggish, particularly midfield where the presence of Weston McKennie, who missed the game for a yellow card, appeared to be lacking.
“That was a great experience for our team,” said Berhalter, who noted that the field conditions had disrupted some of his team’s attempts to pass, “but you can see that the boys are disappointed.”
Christian Pulisic, who is still getting fit after a high ankle sprain, came in as a replacement around half an hour before the end of the game. He came into play in a similar situation on Friday and headed into the green goal.
But he didn’t conjure up any ointment for Americans’ problems on Tuesday night, so the United States wonders where all the energy and urgency has gone.