By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Sept 6, 2012) US Soccer Players – After upsetting Mexico at the Azteca Stadium last month, the United States will try to take that ego boost and refocus its energies on defeating Jamaica in back-to-back World Cup Qualifiers. The USA travels to Kingston on Friday (8pm ET - beIN Sport) for the first game. Four days later, the Americans host Jamaica (8pm ET - ESPN2) in Columbus, Ohio.
The US leads Group A in the Semifinal Round of CONCACAF Qualifying with four points after two games, holding the lead on Jamaica due to better goal differential. Two wins would put the USA in firm control of the group, with one foot in the Hexagonal and a step closer to Brazil ‘14. Jamaica represents the USA’s toughest opponent in this stage of the competition.
“We feel very confident in the group that we have coming in. We’re developing a lot of good chemistry and experience in the team and now our goal is to become more and more consistent,” US coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We are ready to put in a lot of hard work this week and will be prepared on Friday to get a result.”
Jamaica has looked strong lately and under coach Theodore Whitmore is making a serious bid at trying to reach the World Cup finals. Last month, Jamaica blanked El Salvador 2-0 in a friendly at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC, with a goal in each half from the team’s all-time leading scorer Luton Shelton.
“I’m very pleased to see that we are now getting a handle on some of the Central American teams, especially when we play away from home,” Whitmore said after the match. “This one was also pleasing, especially when we consider the circumstances and conditions we worked under. For this game, (we had) about 50 minutes training time with the team. So under situations like these, we can’t knock our players. We just have to go ahead and congratulate them on the performance.”
Indeed, Whitmore had held just one training session prior to that game after his European-based players flew to the US the day before. Against El Salvador, Whitmore ordered up a 3-5-2 with his central defenders sitting back in their own half for much of the game. Expect the same approach against the United States, meaning the Americans will need to avoid getting frustrated in the attacking third. It will be interesting to see how Clint Dempsey will handle the situation, especially given the absences of Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley.
Donovan and Bradley are both sidelined with injuries, while Dempsey will be back with the team following a turbulent summer that included a move from Fulham to Tottenham. Dempsey missed the start of the English season due to the protracted talks and was also not part of the squad that defeated Mexico. He has not played a competitive match since June. Dempsey joined Spurs late on Friday, too late to make his debut with his new club.
“We are absolutely open to throwing him in the water right away in Jamaica if he’s really in a good physical condition and feeling really fine,” Klinsmann told reporters during a conference call earlier this week.
Klinsmann’s 24-man roster includes 18 players who were part of the team that earned four points from the first two World Cup Qualifiers in June. As for doing without Donovan and Bradley, Klinsmann said, “There will never be game where we have everybody 100 percent on board. It’s just the way soccer works. You always have to deal with injuries, maybe some players not being in form. The Mexico game really showed we have some depth. We have some players that can step up and can make a surprising performance and surprise the opponent.”
Even with the win at Azteca last month, playing in Kingston will also prove difficult. Jamaica plays its qualifiers at Independence Park, known as “The Office” and the Americans have never won there. The stadium holds 30,000 spectators and opened in 1962. The venue earned the nickname because of Jamaica’s 50-game unbeaten run from 1995 to 2001.
Generally, the Americans have always gotten the better of Jamaica. Overall, the United States has never lost to Jamaica, collecting a 10-0-8 record dating back to 1988. But the US has never beaten Jamaica away in a qualifier, amassing four draws in four attempts.
On US soil, the record stands at 8-0-3. Of note, the teams have drawn six times out of the eight meetings in World Cup Qualifying. The US has won two and tied two in home Qualifying games. For the United States, playing in Columbus will also give them the edge. The USA is 5-0-3 all-time at Columbus Crew Stadium and will look to stay undefeated there.
Whitmore will have 24 players at his disposal for the two games, including nine who are based in Major League Soccer. The 26-year-old Luton (33 goals in 67 games for Jamaica) should feature up top with Whitmore also calling up speedy winger Dane Richards (Vancouver Whitecaps) and lethal strikers such as Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids) and Darren Mattocks (Vancouver ). Jamaica has a fast group of players with Richards linking up the midfield with the offense in a manner so effective that the US defense will need to remain alert. For the Americans, this could very well be their toughest two games of the year. But after defeating Italy and Mexico (both on the road), Jamaica really shouldn’t pose much of a threat.
“(Jamaica) have a lot of speed in there so they’re dangerous in transition,” Klinsmann said. “We know what to expect so that’s why have lot of respect for them. I also think if we play to our strengths, we have chance to beat them in Jamaica.”
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