(From USSoccerPlayers.com) - With the crucial USA-Jamaica CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying game coming up on Wednesday (live on ESPN2 – 5:30pm MT) we thought we would chat up former US National Team defender and current Colorado Rapids Community Ambassador Marcelo Balboa who will call the game from Columbus with Rob Stone to get his opinions on what he is looking at heading into the matchup.
Even though the US has already qualified for the final round of CONCACAF qualifying in 2005 how meaningful will this game be to the team?
MB: "I don’t think it is meaningless. As a soccer fan if the US wins – it depends on the Panama outcome – then it has a lot of meaning. Jamaica has a very good team. Do you want to take a chance of playing Jamaica again and go to Kingston? Or do you prefer to take your chances against Panama?
I think the US has to come out to win. They are not coming out to try out new players. I think they will do that but you will see them out there with some veterans. You definitely have to go out to win. Give yourself the best opportunity to play Panama again instead of Jamaica."
Still not having to worry about qualifying in this game has to come as a great relief to the team and the coaching staff.
MB: "This is a great position. It’s the one you want to be in. You are already in and you can give a lot of European players a break. Every game though you go out to win. They know they have to win to have a shot. You know what you are playing for.
If you pass this phase the next one is going to be even harder because the chances of qualifying that earlier are slim. It always comes down to the last game of the year for the final spot or who is going to fight for the half spot to go to the playoffs. There is no doubt there will be pressure on the US players for the next year."
How do you prepare for an opponent who you know has a lot of pressure on them to win the game?
MB: "It’s going to be a lot harder because Jamaica is going to come out knowing what is at stake. The US is also going to have players who are fighting for places on the World Cup team. Both teams have a lot of motivation. Jamaica has six points and Panama has five. If you are Jamaica you don’t want to take a chance and see if you can get a tie. Jamaica has to win this game. They have to come out flying."
The big news out of the last qualifier against Panama was Ed Johnson scoring a hat-trick in his second game. How do you rate his progress over the last year?
MB: "He’s had a great year. There is no doubt that he’s got tons of potential. You have to be excited to have a kid like that with so much potential. On the other hand the kid is still young. He has a long way to go. One game with three goals does not make him a superstar. It makes him a very good player. It makes him someone that can hurt the opponent with his speed.
I don’t think the US has ever had anybody with that kind of pace in front of goal. To have that option is phenomenal. One game does not make a player but you have to give him credit. He had a great year in Dallas. You can tell he is maturing. That’s the best part about it – watching him mature over the last year. As a former player when you see someone do that you expect it every game."
What other players can use this game to step up and challenge for a spot on the roster?
MB: "I would like to see Joe Cannon in camp after the year he had to step up and see what he can do at the international level. There are so many players out there which is great because it’s nice to finally have that kind of depth in MLS. There is a lot of good competition out there for American goalkeepers aside from Kasey Keller coming in.
In the back I think you would like to see Cory Gibbs play. You want to see Pablo Mastroeni get in and stay healthy. Steve Ralston you want to see. If Ben Olsen was not with DC he would probably have a shot at getting back in there. You are finally going to see Taylor Twellman back healthy. You would love to see Brian Mullan do well too.
This is a great opportunity for these guys to show. I don’t think it will be their last chance either. You have until the end of 2005 for World Cup Qualifying so you are definitely going to see a lot of these guys over that time. That is the main difference from when we played. There is a much bigger player pool."
How does the USA-Jamaica rivalry compare with the USA-Mexico rivalry?
MB: "You can’t compare any rivalry between the US and Mexico to anyone else. It’s a big rivalry and you look forward to playing those games. You know when they are coming and you are dreaming about those games.
Jamaica is still dangerous with some of their MLS players like Damani Ralph Andy Williams and Tyrone Marshall. It’s bragging rights for when you come home and play against them in the League. You can’t compare anything though to a USA-Mexico game."