U.S. needs a rebound win vs. Jamaica to quell doubts
The U.S. loss to Jamaica on Friday was its first ever to a Caribbean nation
The U.S. will try to rebound in Columbus, where it has a 5-0-3 record
A win would put the U.S. in good position to make the final qualifying round
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Desperation, uneasiness and playing under pressure are usually what the opponents of the U.S. men's national team are facing when playing at this early juncture in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. After a series of uneven U.S. performances over the course of three qualifying matches, though, the typical region aggressors are the ones carrying that aura heading into Tuesday's all-important match against Jamaica.
Is it a must-win game? By definition, no, but anything but a three-point haul would raise some serious questions, red flags and panic alarms, especially on the heels of Friday night's performance at National Stadium in Jamaica. The 2-1 loss was a long, painful experience for the U.S. men, who were ultimately undone by sluggish play on the ball and two poor fouls that led directly to Jamaica free-kick goals. As a result of the defeat, the first ever for the U.S. to the Caribbean island nation, the stakes are unusually high at this point for an American squad that has made a habit of coasting through to the hexagonal round. Jamaica leads the U.S. and Guatemala by three points atop Group A and is oozing with confidence after Friday's historic result.
"It's part of the system," said veteran U.S. right back Steve Cherundolo, who will be available for selection after a calf strain held him out on Friday. "Any time you play in a four-team group and only two go through, if you lose a game you're going to be under pressure, that's just the way it is. There's no other way to look at it except that it's a home game and we want to win, and if we win tomorrow -- when we win tomorrow -- the world looks a lot different."
In order to try to pull level atop the Group A table, the U.S. men turn to a familiar, sold-out fortress in Crew Stadium, a place in which they have known nothing but international success and a place where the lunch-pail mentality that has become a hallmark of various Columbus Crew teams and the victorious U.S. men's teams of the past has historically shone through. The Americans are 5-0-3 all-time there, (4-0-2 in World Cup qualifiers) and have only conceded one goal -- a 1-1 draw with Jamaica on Nov. 17, 2004.
If the trend of taking care of business at home holds true, then the U.S. would ease the mounting tension and be set up nicely to clinch a place in the final qualifying round, with a home game against Guatemala and a road contest at Antigua and Barbuda remaining. A loss, while not fatal, would send the U.S. soccer faithful into a nerve-racking tailspin while piling on even more unforeseen pressure on the favored team entering group play.
"You have to go through the ride, the roller coaster, the ups and downs," said Clint Dempsey, whose ability to recover will be tested after surprisingly logging the full 90 minutes Friday following a stretch in which he did not play a competitive match for almost three months. "It's no different if you look at years past, it's difficult getting points on the road, but we were able to come together and get important results at home to put us back in good position. It'll be no different if we can get the job done Tuesday."
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann is not blind to the fact that changes need to be made ahead of the upcoming qualifier after the Reggae Boyz stunned the Americans, who lacked the capability to string together passes and take control of the tempo of the match after racing out to a lead in the opening minute off a direct attack down the center. The overall narrowness of the attack was to the detriment of the U.S., though, with forwards Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore getting little in the way of quality service from a midfield that featured three defensive-minded central figures.
"There's obviously a sense within the group that we need to fix a couple of points," Klinsmann said. "We didn't get the result we wanted to in Jamaica, which puts us in a position that we have to, need to get those points back and want to desperately, desperately do that tomorrow night. Pressure is always there in professional sports. Obviously we wanted to get points in Jamaica and be in a better position than we are right now. We need tomorrow night."
In going after the result, a number of changes are expected to be made to Klinsmann's lineup. The first of those changes is forced upon the coach, as center back Clarence Goodson is suspended because of accumulating two yellow cards during the qualification round. That paves the way for captain Carlos Bocanegra to return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch Friday. Klinsmann omitted Bocanegra from his lineup primarily because he had been playing against fourth-tier Scottish competition and was not deemed ready enough to go against Jamaica. That won't be the case Tuesday.
"Carlos will be back tomorrow," Klinsmann said. "He will be our captain. He totally understood our decision. It has to do with his last couple of weeks as well as the Mexico game where we tried out new things and were pleased with what we've seen. But he's back in the team. Carlos is a very important piece of the whole puzzle."
Klinsmann alluded to Cherundolo's reintegration along the back line as well, while only offering a teasing "maybe" when asked whether he would make changes to his midfield that struggled so badly in Kingston. Incorporating a player like FC Dallas winger Brek Shea on the left would provide a true wide option to help spread the field.
Although Klinsmann is forced to manage for the present considering the somewhat dire circumstances surrounding Tuesday's match, he may be tempted to glance ahead when sifting through his lineup options as well. Midfielders Maurice Edu and Jermaine Jones and left back Fabian Johnson are all sitting on yellow cards (Michael Bradley is too, but he remains unavailable Tuesday regardless), and another caution Tuesday would prevent them from making the trip to Antigua for the Oct. 12 road qualifier against Antigua and Barbuda.
Regardless of who takes to the field, the task is pretty crystal clear: Win, secure three points and alleviate the building pressure while restoring order and a reputation as one of CONCACAF's two major powers.
"We know that we can play at a better level," Dempsey said. "And we will."
So what lineup could we see for the U.S. men Tuesday night? Here's a prediction based off Klinsmann's comments Monday and the need for a wider, more attack-minded, approach to spread the field (in a 4-2-1-3, right to left):
GK: Tim Howard; DEF: Steve Cherundolo, Geoff Cameron, Carlos Bocanegra, Fabian Johnson; MID: Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Clint Dempsey; FWD: Herculez Gomez, Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea.
Playing on September 11 has not gone overlooked by U.S. players, who acknowledged the significance of taking to the field while remembering those who were lost in the tragic attacks on this country 11 years ago.
"It's special just remembering those who we lost. It's such a sad and important time in our country's history and hopefully that will spur us on and give us inspiration," said goalkeeper Tim Howard, who was declared 100 percent by Klinsmann after suffering a leg injury during a collision on Friday and is expected to start.
Added Dempsey: "It's something that's special. It showed that our country has a lot of character and was able to bounce back from that type of situation. I think people draw strength from that. Us as players and us as a country, we always remember that and the impact it had on everybody's life. Everybody remembers where they were on that day. You can use it as a positive, as motivation to stay strong and keep fighting."
According to U.S. Soccer, American flags will be distributed to fans in attendance, and three New York City Fire Department first responders will be honored: Captain Joseph Brosi, Battalion Chief Wayman Iriarte and Lieutenant Jason Hickey.
Landon Donovan, one of the key absences for the U.S. during these two fixture dates, played in a reserve match for the Los Angeles Galaxy on Monday as he continues his recovery from a hamstring strain. He scored a goal and had an assist in 33 minutes and said he is targeting a Friday return to the Galaxy's first team for his comeback date after tweaking his hamstring in the U.S. 1-0 victory over Mexico on Aug. 15.
Former U.S. national team and Columbus Crew great Frankie Hejduk took in training on Monday in a way that only the eclectic Hejduk could pull off: While wearing his own U.S. national team jersey. Hejduk has been a part of the Crew's front office since retiring following last season, one that he spent winning an MLS Cup title as a reserve with the Galaxy.