JAMAICA vs. USA
Friday, June 7, 7:30 pm MT
Independence Park; Kingston, Jamaica
Watch on beIN SPORT
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CONCACAF's race for Brazil resumes in earnest on Friday night as struggling Jamaica host the US national team in a Hexagonal World Cup qualifier at the National Stadium at Independence Park with three important points on the line.
The hosts are in sore need of all of those points in order to keep alive their fading hopes of qualification, while the USA can hardly afford to lose another road match after February's Hex-opening setback at Honduras.
Jamaica have had less than three days to recover from Tuesday's 1-0 home loss to Mexico, their second loss in four Hex matches thus far, and face a loss of collective belief among their passionate but critical supporters. Meanwhile, the US have taken care to arrive earlier than usual to ease acclimatization over three days of focused training in this sun-kissed, blue-collar capital city.
Even if they win on Friday, the Yanks won't be able book their own World Cup tickets for some time, but they can effectively end their West Indian hosts' hopes – and set themselves on the right path at the outset of their stretch of three qualifiers in 11 days this month.
The Yanks are 11-1-8 in all competitions against Jamaica, and have posted clean sheets in half of those games. Meetings in World Cup qualifying tend to be more evenly balanced, however, and the US have yet to win on Jamaican soil, with one loss and four draws.
Most of the current US squad will remember that single defeat, a 2-1 comeback victory for the Reggae Boyz which in retrospect was the result that made the difference in their pursuit of a place in the Hex, since it took place exactly nine months before this week's meeting. But a sizeable contingent can also hark back to the meeting before that, the USA's assured 2-0 win in the 2011 Gold Cup quarterfinals at RFK Stadium in Washington.
Snaring a top-four finish in arguably the toughest CONCACAF final group ever was always going to be a tall task for this small island nation, the smallest underdog left on the region's stage. Dropping five of the six points on offer in their first two Hex home games presents a far-from-ideal scenario at this early stage, however, and the visit of two regional superpowers in one week has shaken their confidence.
Coach Theodore “Tappa” Whitmore has stated his intention to play with two strikers on Friday in a break from the 4-2-3-1 and 4-1-4-1 looks of the recent past. Portland Timbers striker Ryan Johnson will likely partner with one of the Reggae Boyz' pacey frontrunners, with Jermaine Beckford and Darren Mattocks holding the best odds. Behind them, the efforts of Rodolph Austin – who scored the equalizer in the Gold-Green-and-Black's win in September – and creative influence Jermaine Hue will be pivotal in the central midfield battle.
“Right now, everyone is in a desperate position because we are all scrambling for points,” said veteran goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, whose shotstopping is another crucial ingredient in Jamaica's hopes, on Friday. “But we are at home and you definitely need home games. Hopefully we can come out and play good football. We haven't won since the [Hex] stage's start, so hopefully we can get that right.”
From an outsider's perspective, at least, the US have swung from one emotional extreme to another over the past year or so. The humbling at the hands of Honduras was followed by the inspiring, snow-crusted defeat of Costa Rica in Colorado a few weeks later, and last week's undressing by Belgium gave way to the thrill of defeating three-time world champions Germany in the centennial celebration match in D.C.
With signs of progress with Klinsmann's reform agenda in some areas, and “under construction” signs still posted in others, it's difficult to know exactly which US team will turn up on any given day. Replacing that state of affairs with a more even-keeled march towards Brazil 2014 would be ideal in Klinsmann's eyes, and he's looking to the leadership of captain Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and veterans Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones to him him achieve it.
“It's a roller coaster trying to qualify for the World Cup,” said Dempsey on Thursday. “Things can change quickly. And if you make a mistake you can find yourself on a bad run of form. So we can't let that happen. We have to hit the ground running.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
JAMAICA – Ryan Johnson
The Timbers target man hasn't scored in his country's colors since their Hex-booking win over Guatemala last June, and it's not a coincidence that the Reggae Boyz have only scored one goal in the four qualifiers since then. Whitmore underlined his faith in the big striker this week, confirming that Johnson would stay in the lineup against the US. Unlike in Tuesday's 1-0 loss to Mexico, he'll have a strike partner to combine with – and his power and movement will ask questions of the Yanks' young central defenders.
USA – Clint Dempsey
Sunday's win over Germany showed “Deuce” at his devastating best, his two-goal performance running his total to three strikes in the four matches since Klinsmann handed him the captain's armband in March. He's been the subject of glowing praise from coaches and fans alike, and his last name has been muttered across Kingston this week like a curse by Jamaica fans fearful of his impact on Friday. The hosts know he's the spark that fires the US attack. But do they have the means to stop him?
GOALKEEPERS: Donovan Ricketts (Portland Timbers), Dwayne Miller (Syrianska/Sweden), Andre Blake (University of Connecticut)
DEFENDERS: Alvas Powell (Portmore United FC/Jamaica), O'Brian Woodbine (VPS Vaasa/Finland), Adrian Mariappa (Reading/England), Daniel Gordon (Karlsruher SC/Germany), Jermaine Taylor (Houston Dynamo), Montrose Phinn (Harbour View/Jamaica), Adrian Reid (Portmore United/Jamaica)
MIDFIELDERS: Je-Vaughn Watson (FC Dallas), Damian Williams (Portmore United/Jamaica), Evan Taylor (Harbour View/Jamaica), Rudolph Austin (Leeds United/England) Marvin Elliot (Bristol City/England), Jermaine Hue (Harbour View/Jamaica), Omar Daley (Motherwell/Scotland), Keammar Daley (Tivoli Gardens/Jamaica)
FORWARDS: Garath McCleary (Reading/England), Jermaine Beckford (Leicester City/England), Theo Robinson (Derby County/England), Ryan Johnson (Portland Timbers), Darren Mattocks (Vancouver Whitecaps), Jeremie Lynch (Harbour View/Jamaica)
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton), Tally Hall (Houston Dynamo)
DEFENDERS: DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (Brondby/Denmark), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Michael Parkhurst (Augsburg/Germany)
MIDFIELDERS (9): Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC), Stuart Holden (Bolton/England), Jermaine Jones (Schalke/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City), Danny Williams (Hoffenheim/Germany)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna/Austria), Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur/England), Herculez Gomez (Santos Laguna/Mexico), Eddie Johnson (Seattle Sounders FC)