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GOLD CUP: Reason to worry for one-time favorite U.S. squad

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On the day of the U.S.’ Gold Cup quarterfinal against Jamaica it’s seems like ages since the 2010 World Cup. Despite a tough extra time elimination at the hands of Ghana, the U.S. soccer program was riding high coming home from South Africa. Then the plane touched down and reality set in.

A lackluster year and three underwhelming Gold Cup group stage games later and the U.S. are facing a tough opponent in a match that they’re not a favorite in. With Jamaica standing in the way of a semi-final berth, Bob Bradley’s U.S. squad will have to fight a team that’s more athletic and in better form.

Previewing the match has been a tough order. The parts are there for the U.S. to be successful. Bradley has quality players at his disposal but there are two legitimate questions that come to mind surrounding the squad.

- Slow Starts?

Getting into the flow of matches has been a tough task. While it seems simple enough the concentration and energy has lacked for the U.S. coming out of the gate in recent years. The issue caught up to the squad in South Africa and has done the same in the Gold Cup. How can the U.S. overcome the slow starts? That’s a question Bradley and Co. need to answer and quick.

- Motivation?

The U.S. has not looked bad in the Gold Cup. Actually the play has been good and the passing has seen long stretches where it’s been top quality. Still there’s a lack of urgency. The team seems to be moving a step slow. Nowhere is it more evident than in front of the net where the U.S. has been anything but clinical.

Answering these questions will go a long way towards securing passage to the semi-finals. In their way will be a Jamaican team that will look to run the U.S. into the ground. With that said, here are three keys for the U.S. to come out victorious.

1. Keep Jamaica in front of them

Keeping the speedy Jamaican squad in front of them is key for the Yanks. At a significant disadvantage in the speed department when comparing Jamaica’s attack to the Yanks back line, the U.S. will need to avoid defending while facing their own goal. If the game becomes a series of foot races, the U.S. will surely come out on the losing end.

2. Control the tempo

Despite Jamaica’s speed, the class or quality on the ball favors Bradley’s squad. The U.S. will need to dictate the pace of the match and attempt to grind the pace of the game down. If Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones can provide a steadying influence and distribute the ball to Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Alitdore the U.S. will be at the advantage.

3. Finish, finish & more finish

jozy altidore 130x130 GOLD CUP: Reason to worry for one time favorite U.S. squad

Can Jozy Altidore find the net again Sunday?

Finishing is a simple and common key. But in a match of two teams that can generate chances at will the ability to convert will be key. For the U.S. that means putting away easy chances which was not a given against Guadeloupe. If the U.S. is to advance Dempsey and Altidore will have to put the ball past Donovan Ricketts or risk being caught on the counter. With Jamaica likely to push forward and not “park the bus” – something the U.S. has not seen this Gold Cup – there will be space and opportunity to score.

With that said, the U.S. will face its toughest test in the Gold Cup to date on Sunday. The way the team responds from the first kick will provide a look into the team’s make up and the coach’s ability to get the team ready. If the team comes out flat and gets behind early it could mean disaster and will raise even more questions about Bradley’s status as head coach.

Needless to say there’s a lot on the line for Bradley and Co. Sunday afternoon.

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com and contributes to Soccerlens.com during the Gold Cup. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.

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