Fast times, cautious lines as US defense set for Jamaica

Ryan Johnson JAMvUSA

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KINGSTON, Jamaica – Both the Jamaican and US national teams kept their practices closed and their chalk talk generic on Thursday, zealously guarding the release of any information that might tip their hands to the opposition when they meet in Friday night’s pivotal World Cup qualifier (8 pm ET, beIN Sport, Live Chat on MLSsoccer.com).

A few prominent themes did rise to the surface, however. Much of the pregame chatter centered around the islanders’ abundance of speed, especially in attacking positions, and the Yanks plan to blunt that threat with organization and communication.

“We know that they’re obviously fast – I think everybody in the country is,” said US defender Michael Parkhurst, drawing chuckles from the media at the USMNT’s stylish hotel in uptown Kingston. “That’s just the way it is. So we have to be really careful of our line, make sure we’re leaving too much space in behind us for them to run onto.

“We know that collectively we need to be tight and not allow them space," he added. "Man for man, they’re much faster than us, and much more athletic. We can’t let it get into one-on-ones all over the field; we have to stay compact and help each other out defensively.”

Always communicative with his defenders, goalkeeper Tim Howard can be expected to spearhead that effort. He too underlined the importance of an organized approach to the Reggae Boyz’ most dangerous trait, and expects Friday’s game to play out very differently from these teams’ last meeting, an assured 2-0 win for the US in the quarterfinals of the 2011 Gold Cup in Washington, D.C.

“Away from home, it’s not always the same kettle of fish as it is in D.C.,” Howard said. “We know they have pace and power up front, and part of nullifying that is stopping that at the source, and that source will be the midfield providers. … They’re going to get balls up to the front guys and we have to deal with that, but if we can stop some of that service it’s going to help us.

“Look, they play to their strengths and we have to recognize those strengths, and we’ve done that,” said Howard, alluding to the substantial amount of time allotted to game-tape analysis under coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “And part of trying to nullify their strength and their speed is going to be us being compact and organized. I think very good teams can always take care of speed and pace and power by being organized and compact and structured.”

Klinsmann himself turned the tables on the speed issue, suggesting that his squad can neutralize Jamaica by playing up their own qualities.

“You always recognize and respect the strengths of your opponents, and you think about things how you want to deal with it,” he said. “But I think we have a team loaded with a lot of qualities. I think our defensive line is fast as well, we have speed all over the place as well, if it’s defense, if it’s up front, if it’s in the midfield. So we’re going to hope not only to match their speed, but also to kind of top certain areas from our end…I think we have a good plan in place to be successful tomorrow night.”