By Charles Boehm - KINGSTON, JAMAICA (Jun 7, 2012) US Soccer Players - The US National Team renews its rivalry with Jamaica's Reggae Boyz on Friday night, entering the National Stadium on the east side of this bustling capital city seeking revenge for last September's landmark loss, and three important points in a highly competitive CONCACAF Hexagonal group.
No one in the US camp – marked by an atmosphere of calm focus and cerebral preparation – has gone so far as to actually utter the “R word” with regards to that first-ever qualifying loss to the Reggae Boys. But there's no mistaking the Yanks' desire to redeem themselves from arguably the most dispiriting moment of coach Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure, especially in light of the hosts' unenviable position at the bottom of the standings with two points after four matches.
“[Jamaica] now have their backs against the wall,” Klinsmann said on Wednesday. “They have to do something really badly on Friday night, which leads us into a huge opportunity that we have here. Our lesson that we take away from last September, they were extremely physical – even brutal, in certain moments, the referee didn't do anything about it. And we gave away two cheap free kicks there, and they converted them, and other than that they never had a shot on goal – but they won it.
“So obviously for us a couple things there. We want to correct that. It kind of still sits in the stomach. And we want to have a good start to these World Cup qualifiers, with a positive performance and three points.”
Keen to take a lesson from last year's 2-1 setback in Kingston, as well as the road loss to Honduras by the same margin in February's Hex opener, Jurgen Klinsmann has flown his squad into Jamaica earlier than usual. That's three full days to adjust to tropical heat and humidity – which should only be a modest factor in any case, given the late evening kickoff time – and the lower-caliber playing surfaces typically found in the Caribbean.
Even the wild card looks unlikely to burn the US, though. The National Stadium pitch, while more steeply crowned and not quite as golf green-esque as those the Yanks are accustomed to, is in better shape than it was in September and played well in Jamaica's 1-0 loss to Mexico on Tuesday.
“It's time to get down to business. It was good to get down here and get acclimated, get as much rest as possible before the game,we got to watch Jamaica vs. Mexico,” USA captain Clint Dempsey said. “You want to put yourself in a good position in the table so you're not stressing come those next four games.
“We've put ourselves in the best position to try to get a good result, because we're going to be used to those conditions, whereas when you're coming from Europe straight to play a game, there's not much turnaround before the game to try to get acclimated... me personally, I'm in better shape and better form than what I was when I came down last time.”
Though he remains fond of unexpected roster wrinkles, Klinsmann is on track to start the same lineup for consecutive matches for the first time in his 22 months at the helm, having pronounced himself pleased with the group that earned a 4-3 friendly win over Germany in Washington, DC on Sunday.
Versatile midfielder Brad Evans has seized the initiative at right back in the absence of Steve Cherundolo and Tim Chandler, while young center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler seem to have become the incumbent options in the middle of defense. DaMarcus Beasley, though he says he is still a left winger at heart, has earned Klinsmann's trust on the left side as the German-American coach emphasizes the value of what he considers the “modern” incarnation of the outside back.
“The role of a fullback nowadays is very different to 15, 20 years ago,” Klinsmann said. “A fullback nowadays turns almost into a little bit of a playmaker role. He will decide games in the way they fill in – that means defensively how they connect with the center backs, how they connect with the right or even the center midfielders. So everywhere there are triangles to be built. But if he understands his role and has the technical abilities to go forward, he becomes almost like a winger.”
The central pairing of Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones has become an ironclad pillar of the USMNT midfield and Graham Zusi has locked down the right flank. Fabian Johnson should start on the left but the technical staff have ample options, including Brad Davis, Eddie Johnson and Joe Corona, if his hamstring issues prove significant.
Up front, the red-hot Dempsey will partner with Jozy Altidore, who ended a long international scoreless streak with his well-taken volley against Germany.
“There's a special partnership possible between Jozy and Clint,” said Klinsmann, who hopes his captain's intensity and work ethic will inspire Altidore to new heights. “Jozy in this kind of learning curve, he had a couple of times a step backwards and another step forward, and this is just a process.”
The Germany result has provided the Americans with useful momentum for this month's busy stretch of three qualifiers in 12 days. But with the Jamaicans' backs against the wall and regional heavyweights Mexico having stabilized their progress towards Brazil 2014, there's a palpable urgency to hit the ground running.
“Absolutely, [Sunday] helps us in the confidence area, but we understand that's an exhibition. Come Friday night, this is the real deal,” said US veteran Herculez Gomez, who will probably miss out on Friday's match due to a knee problem. “Jamaica's going to put it all out there. It's a World Cup qualifier at home for them and home-field advantage in CONCACAF is a big issue. Nobody wants to drop points. Us coming in, we have a big chance of taking points away and that's what we want.”
GK: Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska), Andre Blake (University of Connecticut)
DEF: Alvas Powell (Portmore United FC), O'Brian Woodbine (VPS Vaasa), Adrian Mariappa (Reading), Daniel Gordon (Karlsruher SC), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Montrose Phinn (Harbour View), Adrian Reid (Portmore United)
MID: Je-Vaughn Watson (FC Dallas), Damian Williams (Portmore United), Evan Taylor Harbour View), Rudolph Austin (Leeds United) Marvin Elliot (Bristol City), Jermaine Hue (Harbour View), Omar Daley (Motherwell), Keammar Daley (Tivoli Gardens)
FOR: Garath McCleary (Reading), Jermaine Beckford (Leicester City), Theo Robinson (Derby County), Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers), Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jeremie Lynch (Harbour View)
GK: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)
DEF: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg)
MID: Michael Bradley (AS Roma), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Jermaine Jones (Schalke), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim)
FOR: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur), Herculez Gomez (Santos), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)
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