Never mind history. For the moment, survival is all that matters.
Until Friday night, the United States men's national soccer team had spent most of 2012 making history. That is, the good kind of history.
Victory over Italy—in Italy—in February gave the U.S. its first-ever victory over the Azzurri. In August, the Yanks made history again, beating Mexico at Azteca Stadium for their first-ever win on Mexican soil.
The history kept coming Friday, but it wasn't always the kind Jurgen Klinsmann and his team wanted to make. Friday's 2-1 defeat at the hands of Jamaica was the Americans' first-ever loss to Jamaica (Associated Press via Los Angeles Times).
It wasn't all bad news. Clint Dempsey scored after 35 seconds, the fastest American goal in World Cup qualifying history. Problem was, the United States created little else for the remaining 89 minutes.
Free-kick goals from man-of-the-match Rodolph Austin and Luton Shelton (the latter a beauty) doomed the U.S. to defeat and a precarious place in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying.
With three matches left, the U.S. is tied with Guatemala for second place in Group A, three points behind Jamaica. The top two teams in the group advance to the final round of qualifying.
That could mean a couple of things depending on your outlook. Either the U.S. is in trouble, or Klinsmann's team still has plenty of time to turn things around.
Either way, the Yanks face a must-win in their next game, an immediate rematch against Jamaica on Tuesday. But this time, the Americans have home-field advantage in Columbus, Ohio.
The U.S. must address a number of issues, including a midfield that lacked cohesion Friday. The defensive midfielder trio of Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones and Maurice Edu struggled to maintain possession.
Beckerman in particular struggled, giving up the free kick that led to Austin's goal then deflecting Austin's kick into the U.S. net.
Up top, Jozy Altidore made little impact, and though Dempsey scored, he lacked match sharpness after not playing a competitive match since June.
"We have to fix it now," Klinsmann told FIFA.com after the match. "We have to fix it back in Columbus and I think it's clear to the players that in certain moments you just need to be a little bit smarter."
Klinsmann's refusal to panic could serve the U.S. well. Against Jamaica on Friday, the U.S. midfield needed the calm, veteran leadership of Michael Bradley and Landon Donovan. Both are unavailable for Tuesday's rematch due to injury.
Klinsmann and the U.S. will have to make do with what they have and they'll have to produce a much-improved performance on home soil. Complicating matters, Dempsey could be unavailable for the full 90 minutes a second time in five days.
If nothing else, Dempsey and his teammates are saying the right things.
"We’ve got to get a win," Dempsey said of Tuesday's rematch (via USSoccer.com). "It hurt us not getting any points tonight. We’ll get this taste out of our mouths because it’s not a good feeling.”
That's the feeling a team gets when survival is on the line.
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