The United States men's national team faces its toughest test of the current qualifying round on Friday. The Americans head to Independence Park for a tricky test against Jamaica, a team that is currently tied with them in the Group A table.
The task becomes even tougher when you consider Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, two key cogs in recent years, aren't available for the match. If Team USA isn't careful, it will return home for the rematch down by three points.
Let's take a look at three American players who must elevate their level of play on Friday for the team to secure at least a draw on the road.
With Donovan and Bradley sidelined, the onus to jump-start the attack from the midfield will likely fall on Jones. The veteran midfielder has played much better in recent appearances for the national team, but usually in a supporting role.
Luckily, he plays the physical style necessary to have success against Jamaica. The Reggae Boyz will attempt to clog the midfield and use their speed to create opportunities on the counterattack, a plan Jones must thwart.
Jones is an emotional player. Whether that works for him or against him changes from game to game. A smart showing from him would be huge for the United States.
Having Howard between the pipes always gives Team USA an added boost of confidence. He's seen it all during his long national team career, including what can happen if you don't play well in hostile territory, which makes him a key asset.
The 33-year-old goalkeeper is usually forced to bail out his defenders at least a couple times in every match. Since the American back line has been prone to lapses for so much of his international career, he's used to it by now.
Time and again, he's proven up to the task. Jamaica has a couple dangerous attacking players, most notably Luton Shelton, meaning Howard will have to remain on his toes for all 90 minutes.
Altidore has been on fire every since moving to Dutch Eredivisie side AZ at the club level. He's netted 19 goals in 32 league games, and 23 across all competitions, finally showing off the poise in front of goal he flashed in his early years with Team USA.
The New Jersey native has scored 13 times for the United States and the team would receive a gigantic boost if he can develop into the lead striker it has lacked. His success with AZ is certainly a positive sign, but he must carry that momentum with him.
Manager Jurgen Klinsmann might have his team play a conservative style with an eye on making sure the result is at least a draw. That means Altidore would have limited chances, but he must take advantage of the ones he does get.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!