Fortress Jax: US national team try to extend undefeated run in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The River City may not have the same cache as other American soccer fortresses, but it’s certainly not from a lack of trying.

Jacksonville is one of nine American cities where the US men’s national team are undefeated after at least four matches. While the national team haven’t visited Fullerton, California or Birmingham, Alabama in more than a decade, they have played World Cup qualifiers in Kansas City (3-0-1), greater Salt Lake City (4-0-0) and of course, Columbus, Ohio (7-0-3).

“Jacksonville has always treated us tremendously well,” said USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann at Tuesday's training session, before his team departed for St. Vincent & the Grenadines. “It’s a great soccer crowd. They understand the game. They give us a great push. The experience we’ve had in the past does help. We can’t wait to have the game against Trinidad & Tobago here.”

Tuesday will be the fifth time the American men play in Jacksonville, but the first time in a competitive match. After tying Moldova at Wolfson Park in 1994, the team has won four straight here, including the first win over Germany in program history in 1999.

“It’s a good atmosphere,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “The surroundings are friendly and comfortable for us. We enjoy Jacksonville. We enjoy staying here and training here. There have been four good results, and we’re trying to make it five.”

Howard has good reason to say that. He was between the pipes for the first 45 minutes of a 5-1 win over Scotland in 2012 and earned his 100th cap in the River City in June 2014, when the US beat Nigeria 2-1 in the pre-World Cup “Send-Off Series.”

Klinsmann announced last week that Howard will be the starting goalkeeper on Tuesday night, the USMNT's final game of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semifinal round. Howard, Geoff Cameron and Michael Bradley will likely be the only three starters that also started in 2012 and 2014.

“The sending-off series against Nigeria, I remember it was a good last game for us to build into heading into the World Cup,” Cameron recalled on Sunday. “The crowd were fantastic. The stadium is great. We’re happy to be here and hopefully, continue our streak of winning games.”

Klinsmann orchestrated a training session in humid conditions at EverBank Field on Sunday morning, with occasional showers a reminder of Hurricane Hermine's recent sweep through the region. About 20 minutes after the team began, another bald Bradley came out to watch proceedings: Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley.

As for the Bradley that soccer fans will recognize, Klinsmann wouldn’t mind if he continues his streak of producing goals in Northeast Florida. Four years ago Bradley hit a swerving half-volley into the corner from 25 yards, and two years ago the American captain assisted Jozy Altidore’s second goal.

“The experience of these guys is tremendously important. They have done it. They know how to handle these type of games. If they have good memories, like Michael has with that beautiful goal against Scotland, a couple years ago, then even better,” Klinsmann said of his veterans with a smile. “We tell them: ‘And another one, please.’”