Sounders star scores to give USA 1-0 win over Jamaica

By Steve Megargee

Associated Press

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Jordan Morris ended the U.S. scoring drought, gave Bruce Arena his first national team win in more than a decade and put himself in a position to make the roster for games that count.

Morris scored in the 59th minute, and the United States beat Jamaica 1-0 Friday night to give Arena the first win of his second stint as national team coach.

“Jordan Morris has made a statement,” said Arena, who earned his first victory as the U.S. coach since an exhibition triumph over Latvia in May 2006.

Benny Feilhaber took a 20-yard pass from Dax McCarty and played the ball to Morris with a back-heel pass. Morris returned the ball to Feilhaber, who was making his first start in five years.

Feilhaber dribbled into the penalty area and pushed the ball back to Morris. The 22-year-old forward, last season’s Major League Soccer Rookie of the Year, took a touch and beat goalkeeper Ryan Thompson inside the near post with a right-footed shot from 8 yards. It was the second international goal for Morris, who also scored against Mexico in an April 2015 exhibition, and ended a 280-minute U.S. scoreless streak.

“We created a lot of chances, and it was good to finally get one,” Morris said. “It kind of rewarded us for all the hard work we did this camp.”

After starting 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying in North and Central America and the Caribbean, the U.S. resumes the hexagonal March 24 against Honduras in San Jose, California, then plays four days later at Panama.

The next match will be near Stanford, where Morris impressed national team staff when the U.S. trained against Cardinal players ahead of the 2014 World Cup.

“He’s clearly a likely candidate for our camp in March,” Arena said.

Before a crowd of 17,903 at Finley Stadium and playing a rare match on artificial turf, the Americans got their second straight shutout under Arena, who said a priority would be tightening the U.S. defense. A 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 rout at Costa Rica caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann, who had been in charge since 2011, and bring back Arena, the national team’s coach from 1998-2006.

Arena changed nine starters from his return match, a 0-0 tie against Serbia last weekend.

Goalkeepers Luis Robles and David Bingham split halves and combined on the shutout. Central defender Walker Zimmerman made his international debut, and three players who made their debuts last weekend got their first starts: left back Jorge Villafana and midfielders Chris Pontius and Sebastian Lletget.

“All you can ask for as a player is the opportunity,” Zimmerman said. “I think the mentality of everyone in this group is it’s a new coaching staff. Everyone’s got a fresh slate.”

Arena praised the 23-year-old Zimmerman, who is entering his fifth season with Dallas.

“As the last couple of weeks went on, Walker got better and better every day,” he said. “I thought tonight he had a terrific game.”

Right back Graham Zusi and central defender Steve Birnbaum were the only holdovers in the starting lineup against the Reggae Boyz, who knocked out the Americans in the semifinals of the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. Midfielder Dax McCarty made his first appearance in six years and forward Juan Agudelo made his first start since June 2015.

Captain Michael Bradley replaced Feilhaber in the 62nd minute, his first appearance off the bench since October 2011.

Forward Jozy Altidore didn’t play at all Friday. Arena said the 27-year-old is dealing with a “little bit of a nagging injury” without specifying the nature of the ailment.

“He could have played but best not to have that linger on and have him ready for his season with Toronto,” Arena said.

McCarty sent a header just over the crossbar in the seventh minute and Lletget sent a 19th-minute cross to Agudelo, whose shot was wide.

Jamaica nearly went ahead in the 34th minute after Cory Burke outsprinted Zusi down a flank on a counter and crossed. Robles got a hand on the ball and it deflected to Romario Williams, but the ball went off his left knee and wide.

Morris broke in alone in the 38th to chase a headed pass from Agudelo, and goalkeeper Andre Blake made a sliding save.

Europe-based players were not available for the two matches, and Major League Soccer players were returning from their offseasons.

“I would have liked to have had us score a few more goals in these past two games, but that usually comes a little later in the preseason,” Arena said. “Usually the attacking players need a little bit more time. Our biggest thing, what we can influence the most with the team, is our mentality when our opponents have the ball, how we move and react. I’ve been encouraged by how we’ve been able to become a pretty solid defensive group over the last couple weeks.”

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