Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon
“If we don’t win on Tuesday, it gets pretty scary.”
– Jozy Altidore
Jurgen Klinsmann says “we won’t lose” but Jozy Altidore captures the moment better. Tonight’s Jamaica-USA match, the second such encounter in five days, is the most critical USMNT qualifying match since 2001. Steve Davis at NBC Sports outlines just how dicey things could get here, but suffice it to say that if the USMNT fail to secure at least a point, and, as expected, Guatemala defeat Antigua and Barbuda, the Americans could enter October needing six points and a slew of goals to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying. Inconceivable after the Azteca victory? Maybe not completely– a brilliant Pappa free kick seemed to get this whole ball rolling downhill– but very certainly improbable. And failing to qualify, especially in this round, is absolutely inconceivable. And yet here the United States are.
The Series: The Americans lead, 10-1-8, but they are 8-0-3 in home matches, and have never surrendered a point to the Reggae Boyz in a qualifying match played on US soil. Essentially, this means the US just need to hold historical serve to stay out of the scary part of the forest.
Weather: 75 and mostly clear skies at kick, but temperatures are expected to rapidly decrease during the game. Chance of rain minimal.
Television: ESPN 2. Yes, this means you neither have to upgrade your DIRECT TV package nor call COMCAST/XFINITY and make sure your 200 dollar cable bill will have the match in order to view the proceedings from Crew Stadium this evening.
Likely US 11 at the Whistle:
What We’re Looking For From The Yanks: More attacking football. More width. A change in formation. Carlos Bocanegra as the captain of the national team. If you analyze Jurgen Klinsmann’s comments at the Monday press conference, you can almost guarantee a tactical change with an emphasis on a high-line and pressured football. And Carlos Bocanegra, according to Klinsmann, “will be (our) captain.”
Attacking play isn’t just necessary because the United States are in need of three points to avoid, in Altidore’s words, things “getting scary.” It’s needed because the Yanks will undoubtedly play a Jamaica side oozing with confidence and bunkering for a point. Any result for Jamaica and passage to the final round of CONCACAF qualifying becomes nearly certain. Given a likely defensive posture from the Reggae Boyz, the Americans will need attacking tactics and perhaps everything but the kitchen sink to seize the momentum and the advantage.
As we noted and the fine Shin Guardian piece we sited noted, the American attack was far too narrow in the Kingston game and the Yanks must change that in the reboot, not simply to add their attack, but to prevent Jamaica from garnering space by exploiting the space afforded from the Americans being too bunched in– space that was ample in the Independence Park match Friday. In a way, the US constriction of space did limit Jamaica to only free kicks- so the defense wasn’t necessarily terrible. The problem was in attack and to correct that, lineup changes are expected. Throw in the home fans and a bit more license from Klinsmann for Johnson to get forward (he and Cherundolo were tasked with that at the presser Monday)– and you sense the Americans will be on the front foot. Graham Zusi is our choice to enter, if only because he offers a bit of the “missing link” that seems to be needed between Dempsey and the forwards– and he certainly would allow Dempsey to be more selective in when he drops deeper to receive the ball– a position from which he is far less effective. He’s also in exceptionally good form.
Brek Shea would seem to be the choice if we’re looking at Klinsmann’s Monday press conference comments alone as our guide. “We talked about [the issue of width] at halftime and that is an area we can do much better in,” the manager said. “It became clear after looking at game tape our passing game was not clean enough. We have to do that much better.” Shea is a true winger and his deployment on the left would allow the US to tuck in one of its fullbacks without compromising width- something which might add Cherundolo, who really needs to pick his spots in attack these days, especially against a pacy team like Jamaica who will be looking to exploit the Americans on the counter and on the counter alone tonight.
Finally, we are looking for a “loose” US national team, one that feeds off a rowdy Columbus crowd that has proven itself to be quite partisan and rowdy in the past (see 2-0, Mexico, 2009). Tim Howard told reporters yesterday he thought the Americans would play with fire, but without a sense of great pressure.”We don’t feel a sense of pressure. We are loose. More than anything, we are hungry. If there is anxiety or tenseness, it is about wanting to get a little bit of payback,” Howard said. Let’s hope so.
What We’re Looking For From Jamaica: A similar deployment to Friday night, but against more pressure. This likely places a greater emphasis on Friday goal scorer Rodolph Austin, who is unheralded precisely because his career has lacked anything particularly distinguished to write home about. Absent MB 90, however, the US midfield could do nothing to pressure him into turnovers and breaks, and they’ll need to do better tonight, because Jamaica now have the liberty of bunkering and playing for a draw– a result that, as noted, would nearly assure them a spot in the final round of qualifying.
Jermaine Taylor, who marshaled the Reggae Boyz defense late when the US was pressing Friday night, looks to be far more busy this evening, and could be tasked with dealing with a more complex American attack. What kind of night he has may dictate what kind of night the Yanks have.
One final note of caution: the always enjoyable Roger Bennett, of ESPN and Men With Blazers fame, dug up this chestnut while stalking the Jamaicans at their hotel last evening: (Asking the Jamaicans if they had played their best Friday night)–“The pitch in Kingston is terrible.” Then they added, with no irony, “On a proper field where we can control the ball, we can really play our game.”
Jamaica Player to Watch: Jermaine Taylor
The Houston Dynamo defender captained Jamaica and marshaled the defense on Friday night, and for the Yanks’ sake, he better be in the spotlight on Tuesday night. As we’ve noted, the ball wasn’t in or around Jamaica’s eighteen yard box very often at all in game one. That better change in this match. And I think it will.
So while Jamaica does have a couple defenders that might get lost depending on how well the Americans move the ball, Taylor should be solid and hard to beat. It will likely be on Altidore to turn Jermaine, or another Yanks to lose him for a half second on a corner.
US Player to Watch: Jozy Altidore
After the debacle that was the USMNT’s “build-up play” in Jamaica, Klinsmann will commit to getting the ball through the midfield and up to Dempsey and the forwards. That means Jozy Altidore will have his latest chance to show that he’s still the best scoring option up top. Lately he’s proving his worth at club level, consistently getting goals for AZ in Holland. It’s time he shows a new level of professionalism and finishing for the Yanks.
That means finding a way to get a goal or two even when you’re being frustrated by the opposition and your chances are limited. It also means playing the hold-up game when called for, keeping possession and dishing to teammates. He’s actually already improved the hold-up aspects of his game greatly under Coach Klinsmann. Now it’s time to retain those qualities and get goals. It’s time for Jozy to become a consistently great forward at international level.
Prediction: USA 3 – 2 Jamaica
An emotional roller coaster ends well, and we stave on USMNT panic mode. That said, I think the Yanks trail at least once in this match. Buckle up.
Enjoy the match, and Go USA!
Jon Levy and Neil W. Blackmon co-founded The Yanks Are Coming. They have been writing and analyzing US Soccer for several years, and have written for various publications. They have also appeared and talked US Soccer as guests on the Sports Illustrated Podcast and Sirius/XM radio. Follow them on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt and @TYAC_Jon.