Photo: Nicolae Stoian
I don’t know about you, but I’m still buzzing about the win over Mexico. If there was one negative about that night, though, it’s that the game didn’t count for points. Tonight, the USMNT returns to meaningful play (not that the Mexico game wasn’t meaningful, but you know what I mean), with the first of a home-and-home series with Jamaica, in Kingston, and the return game in Columbus, OH, on September 11.
The U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica and is tied at the top of the qualifying group with the Jamaicans, and the Reggae Boyz boast a number of MLS-based players. Getting four or even six points in these next two games would put the U.S. in excellent position to move on into the next round, but it won’t be easy.
The Jamaican team includes several names recognizable to MLS fans, like Shavar Thomas, Dane Richards, Darren Mattocks, Omar Cummings, Ryan Johnson, and others. Most of the rest play in lower-level English and European leagues. Jamaica doesn’t have the overall talent level of the U.S. and doesn’t have much consistency in its performances, managing only a 0–0 tie with Antigua & Barbuda in its most recent competitive match, but there are individuals who can definitely do some damage. One thing the Jamaicans have in buckets is speed, something the U.S. is not known for.
The U.S. comes into the match without two of its best players in Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, both of whom are injured, but Steve Cherundolo and Carlos Bocanegra both return, which should solidify the back line. The major question mark is Clint Dempsey. He is healthy and with the squad, but he has yet to play competitive soccer this season, having been left out of Fulham’s squad before a deadline-day move to Tottenham Hotspur. Klinsmann has said he will use Dempsey to the fullest extent Dempsey is able, but whether that means Deuce is ready for a start remains to be seen.
The pitch. As I said above, the main weapon at the Jamaicans’ disposal is their speed, but another may be the pitch itself, which is renowned for its poor quality and lack of grass. The U.S. isn’t exactly Barcelona, but Klinsmann’s style of play does encourage the quick interchanging of passes, which might be difficult on a surface like the National Stadium’s. With their opponents likely to rely more on a kick-and-go-get-it strategy, the U.S. will have to watch out for bad bounces.
How attacking will the U.S. be? Without Donovan and Bradley, the midfield is certain to be less creative than the full-strength side usually is, but how much so? With Dempsey not a lock to start, where will the offense come from? If Jose Torres starts, either up front or in the middle, he can certainly create, but his poor showing in Mexico will not have encouraged the coaching staff. Brek Shea, who made such an impact coming on as a sub in Mexico City, is unlikely to get a start, but he could provide that spark from the bench. Most likely, we will see a fairly defensive midfield, with Jozy Altidore and Herculez Gomez trying to create from the front, collecting longer balls, rather than receiving short passes from the middle.
Will anyone be able to watch? Unless you’ve been dead for the last month, you know that Al-Jazeera-owned beIN Sport bought the broadcast rights to tons of world soccer in the U.S., including USMNT away matches, of which tonight’s match is the first. It is supposedly available as a delayed broadcast to Comcast subscribers with the Xfinity TV Sports Entertainment package, at least in Spanish, on channel 583 (see yesterday’s news roundup for instructions on watching that channel in English), but it is certainly the case that many, many people who would like to see the game will be unable to. I, for one, will be scouring the Internet for questionably legal (as in, there’s no question—they are not legal) streams.
While Jamaica is a relatively tough opponent at home, and the U.S. is missing some key contributors, I am predicting an away win for the U.S., 2–1. With the first-choice defense available and Altidore and Gomez coming off hot starts to their club seasons, the U.S. has more than enough to get its first WCQ win in Jamaica.
A final word on Dempsey: After his summer-long saga leaving Fulham, a club whose fans adored him and which he appears to have real affection for, he eventually made his move to Tottenham, but for a measly sum in the region of six million pounds — well below what any rational person would agree is his true value after the season he put together last year. This Jamaica game is his first chance to play since the spring, and I expect him to come out, whether from the start or as a sub, with a Texas-sized chip on his shoulder, looking to prove his doubters wrong yet again. This is, of course, how Clint plays all the time, but the bigger the motivation, the better he’s liable to be.
My predicted U.S. lineup:
Tim Howard; Fabian Johnson, Carlos Bocanegra, Geoff Cameron, Steve Cherundolo; Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman; Jose Torres, Jozy Altidore, Herculez Gomez.