On Friday night, the U.S. Men’s National Team resumes World Cup Qualifying play against Jamaica, in sweaty, hot, and humid Kingston (9:30 p.m., beIN Sport). The team traveled earlier than usual, in order to have an extra day to acclimate to what promise to be difficult conditions. With game time so late, the temperature at “The Office” will hopefully have cooled into the low 80s, but humidity could be in excess of 70 percent.
Jamaica will be hungry for a win, having lost a difficult game against Mexico on Wednesday. The U.S., of course, is coming off an historic win over Germany in the U.S. Soccer centennial celebration match, and should be full of confidence.
Which U.S. team shows up?
The main question U.S. fans have going into Friday’s game is: Which U.S. team will take the field? This isn’t a question of the names on the roster so much as their attitude and level of commitment. Will the U.S. play tentatively and lacking in communication, as they did against Belgium? Or will the team play proactively, taking the game to Jamaica, while maintaining the shape and discipline they had against Germany? Within that larger question are two main concerns:
The defense: The back line improved significantly against Germany after a poor, scattered display against Belgium. Matt Besler and Brad Evans came in to the side and performed better than the men they replaced, Clay Goodson and Geoff Cameron. Cameron, especially, will be disappointed to have gone from sure-fire starter to the bench so quickly, but Besler and Evans should retain their spots alongside Omar Gonzalez and DaMarcus Beasley.
Gonzalez has been too mistake-prone of late, but his upside is too great to ignore, while Beasley’s strong play at left back has been revelatory. Combine that with the promising play of Fabian Johnson ahead of him in midfield, and Beasley is looking like the starting U.S. left back for the foreseeable future.
Jozy Altidore: Against Germany, U.S. fans saw an Altidore they’d only heard whispered rumors about. Those rumors came from Holland, where Altidore has spent the last club soccer season scoring goals for fun, from tap-ins to free kicks, in moments major and minor. For the U.S., he’d spent the last year not scoring at all (from open play, at least). That is, until Sunday, when Dutch Jozy came to play, smacking in a full-volley goal and providing a deft chipped assist for Clint Dempsey’s first. If Dutch Jozy arrives on his bakfiets, then the U.S. will pose a real challenge to the Jamaican defense. Conversely, if Altidore struggles, so too will the U.S. attack.
Do or die time for Jamaica
It is a truism that to qualify for the World Cup out of the CONCACAF region, teams must avoid losses on the road and win their home games. So, far, Jamaica has failed to do either. While opening qualifying with a score draw away to Mexico, they have since drawn Panama at home, lost to Costa Rica away, and lost at home to Mexico on Wednesday. They currently sit bottom of the group, with just two points from four games. A win over the U.S. is an absolute must if Jamaica is to have any hope of advancing to the World Cup.
With Jamaica needing this win in the worst way, expect the Jamaican team to come out very strong from the opening whistle. The U.S. will need to weather that early pressure, then find openings on the break, as they did to devastating effect against Germany.
Assuming the starting lineup is basically unchanged from the Germany game, the U.S. should look to force turnovers via ball pressure from the forwards and midfield, stay compact defensively, and find Dempsey and Altidore up front when in possession. If the U.S. can do all that, they should break Jamaican hearts and go home with all three points: the U.S. wins, 2–1.