WCQ Preview: US look to stave off disaster vs. Jamaica

After compiling a 10-0-8 record against Jamaica, the US men’s national team picked perhaps the worst time to snap their unbeaten streak against the Reggae Boyz when they lost 2-1 at Independence Park in last Friday’s World Cup qualifier.

The upshot? They won’t have to wait long to make amends. The Yanks will take the field at Crew Stadium on Tuesday (8 pm ET, ESPN2/ESPN3, Galavision, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) for another round with Jamaica, and with a win they can make up the ground lost in their setback at the Office.

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History says they should be able to get the job done. The US are 5-0-3 all time in Columbus – with just one goal conceded across those eight matches – and are still unbeaten against Jamaica on American soil with a 8-0-3 record.

History would also suggest that the scheduling should play into the USMNT’s favor. The Jamaicans were the first team to face the US after the events of 9/11, and the Oct. 7, 2001, date put the match on the same date as the start of the war in Afghanistan. Needing a victory on the final fixture date of the 2002 World Cup qualifying cycle, the US delivered by notching a 2-1 win in Foxborough, Mass., both goals courtesy of Joe-Max Moore. It may be that the US once again rise to the moment.

But of their nine meetings in World Cup qualifying, the US and Jamaica have drawn six times. And if Friday proved anything, it’s that history is no guarantee.

It also proved that the Americans have some serious work to do to nail down this result.

Studio 90: Back to Columbus

USA

Eyebrows were raised around the US soccer community when the Yanks lined up on Friday without their usual captain, Carlos Bocanegra, instead pairing Clarence Goodson with Geoff Cameron at center back. With Goodson suspended for Tuesday’s game due to yellow-card accumulation, US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has confirmed that Bocanegra will be back in the starting XI, and will be wearing the captain’s armband.

Defense, however, is probably the least of Klinsmann’s concerns coming out of Friday’s game in Kingston. Starting the match with three defensive-minded players in the center of the park – Kyle Beckerman, Maurice Edu, and Jermaine Jones – the midfield struggled mightily. Jamaica patched together long spells of possession, and the US seemed ill-equipped to cope with the Reggae Boyz’ speed. Jamaica earned seven set-piece free kicks on the night. The result? Two goals off direct free kicks in the 23rd and 62nd minutes after fouls by Beckerman and Edu, respectively.

Altidore: US need to be more "free-flowing"

The US experienced hiccups on their offensive end, as well. Apart from the play to set up Dempsey’s first-minute goal, they scraped together six shots, four of which were outside the box, and of the two that were on target, one was blocked. While Clint Dempsey was his normal, dangerous self, Jozy Altidore never quite got into the game while Herculez Gomez drifted wide in an attempt to stretch the field.

Altidore, for his part, has already gone on record saying that the US should forget trying to maintain possession for Tuesday’s match, and instead resort to a more “free-flowing” style. It remains to be seen whether Klinsmann agrees with his young striker, but it seems unlikely that the coach will stick with the Beckerman-Edu-Jones set-up.

To reach the final “Hexagonal” round of qualifying, the US will have to finish in the top two of CONCACAF Group A. The Yanks are currently tied for second place with Guatemala, both on four points with a plus-one goal differential. The Guatemalans face off against group cellar-dwellers Antigua and Barbuda on Tuesday, days after putting up a 3-1 win on the tiny island nation.

Klinsmann: No more cheap free kicks

A win would draw the Yanks back on level terms with Jamaica – and possibly Guatemala – with seven points apiece; if not, they face the prospect of looking up at the top two spots in the group with just one more round of matches to play.

It may not yet be absolute must-win for the US, but it’s about as close as it gets. Look for Klinsmann to play more positively on Tuesday, possibly bringing in Jose Torres, Graham Zusi or habitual go-to Brek Shea. If Altidore gets isolated again, Klinsmann can also switch in Terrence Boyd to provide energy to what was a fairly lackluster US side on Tuesday.

Jamaica

While the US are reeling, Jamaica are exultant following the Reggae Boyz’ historic win. But head coach Theodore Whitmore isn’t ready to stop just yet.

“Well yes, definitely,” he said when asked if Jamaica could win again. “It’s 11 v. 11 and with the help of the Almighty – we can leave out God in nothing we do – with the help of the Almighty, the players, they’re confident, the support, we can do it.”

The players are similarly confident, despite the travel, the history and the prospect of a sold-out Crew Stadium.

Jamaica revel in historic win, look for repeat in Columbus

And why not? Between Friday night and their Aug. 15 friendly win over El Salvador at RFK Stadium, the Reggae Boyz have notched four goals in two games. Three of those strikes came courtesy of Luton Shelton, who laced in a stunning free-kick goal against the US. Besides the Karabükspor striker, however, Jamaica bring plenty of attacking talent to the table, including Vancouver Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks, Colorado Rapids striker Omar Cummings and Toronto FC’s Ryan Johnson.

It’s clearly enough skill to undo the Yanks. Whether or not the midfield and backline can withstand a more attacking US side is up for debate, and, having flown to Ohio on Sunday – in coach class, no less – it remains to be seen how the travel will affect the Boyz.

Even if Jamaica don’t manage to pull off another historic win, a tie would still see them pushed into sole possession of first place in Group A with just two games to play. Look for them to play to their strengths – speed and athleticism – to try to win the free kicks that proved so lethal on Friday, and to stay compact to frustrate the US attack.

Key Players

United States: Brek Shea

It’s been an off year for the FC Dallas star, but the US need offense from the midfield, and Shea has proven in his last two games that he can give it to them. Klinsmann has put faith in the young winger in the past, and he may do so again on Tuesday.

Jamaica: Luton Shelton

You don’t bet against the hot hand, and Shelton’s hand is absolutely smoldering right now. With three goals in his last two games, the US’ first priority should be stopping Jamaica’s No. 21.

Rosters

USA

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (9): Carlos Bocanegra (Racing Santander/Spain), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover/Germany), Maurice Edu (Stoke City/England), Clarence Goodson (Brondby/Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Michael Orozco Fiscal (San Luis/Mexico), Michael Parkhurst (Nordsjaelland/Denmark), Jonathan Spector (Birmingham City/England)

MIDFIELDERS (7): Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Jermaine Jones (Schalke 04/Germany), Brek Shea (FC Dallas), Jose Torres (Pachuca/Mexico), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim/Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)



FORWARDS (4): Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna/Mexico)

JAMAICA

GOALKEEPERS (3): Dwayne Miller (Syrianska/Sweden), Duwayne Kerr (Strommen/Norway), Jacomeno Barrett (Montego Bay United/Jamaica)

DEFENDERS (8): Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Adrian Mariappa (Reading/England), Dicoy Williams (Toronto FC), Andre Campbell (Waterhouse/Jamaica), Nyron Nosworthy (Watford/England), Shavar Thomas (Montreal Impact), Lovel Palmer (Portland Timbers), O’Brian Woodbine (VPS Vaasa/Finland)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Rodolph Austin (Leeds United/England), Je-Vaughn Watson (Houston Dynamo), Errol Stevens (Arnett Gardens/Jamaica), Jason Morrison (Aalesund/Norway), Ewan Grandison (Portmore United/Jamaica), Joel Senior (Harbour View/Jamaica)

FORWARDS (7): Luton Shelton (Karabukspor/Turkey), Ryan Johnson (Toronto FC), Kavin Bryan (Vicem Hai Phong/Vietnam), Dane Richards (Vancouver Whitecaps), Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids), Tramaine Stewart (Aalesund/Norway), Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps)