Following its impressive 4-3 win over Germany, the United States men’s national team now heads to Kingston, Jamaica, where it will resume World Cup qualifying on Friday against the Reggae Boyz.
The last time the U.S. headed to Jamaica, in the semifinal round of CONCACAF qualifying, the U.S. lost 2-1.
Here are five lessons the U.S. can take into Friday’s game from its loss last September.
The U.S. desperately needs its top players in top form
Almost forgotten from that night last September in Jamaica is the fact that the U.S. was without several of its top players for the game.
Michael Bradley missed the game due to injury, and, not surprisingly, the U.S. midfield struggled. USMNT fans have been given a recent reminder of this, as the U.S. lost this past week 4-2 to Belgium without Bradley while showing no offensive flow and then beating Germany 4-3 on Sunday with him in the lineup.
Steve Cherundolo also missed the away match to Jamaica on September 7 but made his return for the home leg against Jamaica four days later, where he was Man of the Match.
Clint Dempsey was on the field that day in Jamaica and even scored the game’s opening goal in the first minute of play, but Dempsey was hardly himself, having not played competitively in almost three months leading into the match due to his drawn out transfer saga with Fulham.
And finally, although Jozy Altidore was also on the field in Kingston, he was deep into his scoring slump for the USMNT at that point (which just ended this past Sunday against Germany) and was largely ineffective the entire match.
While the U.S. has finally established some top players in Europe, it is obvious when those players are missing that the U.S. is still a middling team. Steve Cherundolo will definitely miss the upcoming match while taking a hiatus this summer, but the U.S. desperately needs Bradley, Dempsey and Altidore to have big games.
Don’t leave empty-handed
The standard formula for World Cup qualifying success in the CONCACAF region is “win at home, tie on the road.” It is a time-tested formula that the U.S. has used to qualify for six straight World Cups.
However, last September in Kingston, the U.S. came away empty-handed with its 2-1 loss, and that loss put U.S. qualification hopes in serious jeopardy. Coming out of the match, with only three matches left to play in the semifinal round of qualifying, the U.S. was tied for second in its group with only the top two teams advancing.
That loss put the U.S. into must-win scenarios for the rest of qualifying, with wins against Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala necessary to bail the U.S. out of trouble.
As the U.S. heads to Kingston once again, it must be sure to come home with at least a point.
No stupid fouls near the area
In the U.S.’ first game against Jamaica, two silly fouls near the area resulted in the Americans' downfall. Both fouls, the first by Kyle Beckerman and the second by Maurice Edu, led to goals for Jamaica on the ensuing free kicks.
As solid as Tim Howard has been throughout his career, his Achilles' heel has always been defending set-piece shots. With Jamaica having some potent free-kick takes, the U.S. must be smart in its challenges near the area.
Three defensive midfielders is not the answer
On that ill-fated night in Jamaica, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann opted to employ three defensive midfielders in Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman.
The result was a disaster, as the U.S. could create no sustained possession and little offensive flow.
Coming home to the United States for the return leg, the U.S. successfully changed to a 4-1-3-2, which it used in subsequent victories over Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and Guatemala in World Cup qualifying before being inexplicably dropped in favor of the 4-2-3-1 for the hexagonal.
Jermaine Jones has gotten better
For whatever reason, Jermaine Jones’ performances with the USMNT have been improving. Perhaps he has matured, or perhaps he is a “Jekyll and Hyde” character.
In Jamaica last September, USMNT fans saw the “bad” Jones—yelling at the referee, giving the ball away repeatedly (13 turnovers), unnecessarily fouling (five fouls), losing 50/50 challenges and feigning injury after challenges writhing on the ground in simulated pain.
In his last two games for the U.S., however, USMNT fans have seen the “good” Jones. In those two games, Jones has seemed a much calmer presence for the U.S., first doing the defensive work behind Sacha Kljestan against Belgium and then doing the attacking in front of Michael Bradley against Germany.
When Jones is at his best, he is easily one of the U.S.’ top players. When he is at his worst, he is a liability. Based on his more recent performances, U.S. fans have a lot to look forward to when Bradley and Jones are paired together in the American midfield.
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