COLUMBUS, Ohio — Insects have long been omens of a sort. So one could be mistaken for reading into the appearance of a giant grasshopper — the same yellow-green color as the Jamaican jersey — on one of the field-side signboards after the US national team’s trained on Sunday at Crew Stadium ahead of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier with Jamaica.
Yes, forward Jozy Altidore was taken aback by the shimmering praying mantis — “It’s huge!” — but after Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Reggae Boyz in Kingston, this is no time for superstitions.
“We have to win,” Altidore said bluntly. “Everybody feels that a little bit. If we don’t win on Tuesday, it gets pretty scary.”
Indeed it does. In fact, even if the US beat Jamaica, things will be tight. Jamaica are right now on top of Group A with seven points, followed by the US and Guatemala, both with four points. While the US host Jamaica on Tuesday, Guatemala play away to last-place Antigua & Barbuda, meaning that if results go as expected, at the end of the night, the three nations will be tied for the top spot in the group.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, there is still a lot to contemplate about the US’s loss in Jamaica. Was the “diamond midfield” a tactical mistake? Or did the players just not play that way? How badly did the field conditions affect the Americans’ possession? It’s impossible to discuss how Tuesday’s game could go without referencing Friday night’s semi-debacle.
“We tried to play a style -- keep possession -- and it didn’t work,” Altidore said. “I think now we have to play a more free-flowing style on Tuesday. We have to create more chances. . . . We got to keep moving. We’ve got to get width. We were all kinds of scattered in the middle. We tried to play through the middle, and it didn’t work.”
Width was emphasized in training on Sunday. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann held what is becoming a customary event for home matches, an open training session, and an estimated 3,000 fans watched from the stands as the team worked on passing patterns designed to get the ball wide and down the line before a cross came in to the forwards.
“Yeah, we need to get the ball out wide and cross the ball in,” Clint Dempsey said. “We need to create more chances if we’re going to score goals.”
For the lack of width and the lack of chances on Friday, many observers point the finger at the formation Klinsmann installed for the match: a diamond midfield he has not employed before with the US team.
Dempsey played at the top of the diamond and didn’t see the ball as often as he probably needs to if the formation is to succeed. Too often, possession was lost by the other three midfielders — Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, and Kyle Beckerman conceded possession a combined 60 times — before Dempsey could get involved.
Another formational change could be in the offing on Tuesday, Dempsey suggested.
“We’ll have to look at different formations and see what the manager thinks is best for us and how we want to play,” he said. “It was new trying the diamond. Now we have to look at tape and see where things went wrong.”