MIAMI — Emboldened by this year’s first-ever wins over Italy in Italy and over Mexico in Estadio Azteca, the US men’s national team launched camp on Labor Day resolved to earn another first in a World Cup qualifier this Friday.
“We never won against Jamaica in Jamaica,” said defender Fabian Johnson. “So we’re trying to change that, and trying to win there.”
A skeletal crew of 11position players and two goalies gathered on Monday in the small soccer stadium at Florida International University, west of Miami. The rest of the 24-man roster was either injured, still landing on one of the many planes seen descending over the practice field, or undergoing fitness evaluations back at the team hotel.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann put the players in attendance, including Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones, through a series of passing and shooting drills, before they broke up into a short-sided scrimmage. As the temperature at dusk approached 90 degrees, the soft breeze swaying a stand of palm trees was moist and sticky, the same type of air the team is likely to confront in Kingston.
“[We’re] getting used to the humidity and the heat,” said Clint Dempsey after training. It was his first organized practice with any team since his falling out at Fulham and his signing last week with Tottenham Hotspur. “You just try to get acclimated to the weather, to get adjusted to the demands of what it takes going into challenges and going all out.”
The Americans will train in Miami for two days before flying to Jamaica on Wednesday. After Friday’s game in National Stadium, the Yanks will fly to Columbus, Ohio, to face the Reggae Boyz again on Tuesday, Sept. 11.
“The main focus,” Klinsmann said, “is on preparing really well for the doubleheader with Jamaica, which is huge. Because it’s a six-point opportunity. It’s going to be difficult, the guys know that. Jamaica, if you look at their team, their individual players, they have a lot of quality there, a lot of speed. We have to be well prepared. [But] we should be confident going into that [game] because we did well in Mexico. I think the team is growing, the chemistry is really positive, it’s good.”
No player at practice on Monday had ever played Jamaica on the road. Of the full roster expected to be at practice by Tuesday, only Carlos Bocanegra has playing experience at Kingston’s National Stadium, a.k.a. "The Office."
“We all know going into Central America and the Caribbean that these games are very difficult,” Klinsmann said when asked to elaborate on how the Azteca win might bolster the American team’s confidence. “And we know that you deal with different circumstances, but its part of your job, you know? It’s part of your job to adjust as quickly as possible and then give everything you have and counterbalance whatever they bring to the table and top it, even.”
His American players, Klinsmann said, “play in big stadiums week in, week out. They’ve been in front of big crowds, big away games no matter where they do their jobs. So I think they all are prepared.”
Robert Andrew Powell is the author of This Love Is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez.