The United States men's national soccer team resumes its quest to earn a spot in 2014's World Cup on Friday in a match against Jamaica that the club cannot afford to lose.
Following an unsettling international friendly loss to Belgium, the Americans redeemed themselves with a 4-3 victory over Germany. Even though the U.S. gave coach Jurgen Klinsmann a scare by surrendering two goals after jumping ahead, Sports Illustrated soccer expert Grant Wahl still sees it as a momentum-gainer.
Now, back to the games that count.
With four points, the U.S. currently sits in a three-team tie for third place alongside Costa Rica and Honduras. Four teams will advance through the Hexagonal and vie for the World Cup in Brazil.
Seven games remain on the U.S. schedule, but it would serve the Americans well to take care of the Reggae Boyz, who rank last in the six-team fixture with two points.
After celebrating U.S. Soccer's 100th anniversary right, it's now time for Klinsmann and Co. to defeat a winless Jamaica club whose World Cup chances look dim.
This match's outcome could swing the Hexagonal dramatically, as Jamaica can't afford to fall deeper down in the standings. If the Reggae Boyz exit this match with no points, it would build a hole that they are unlikely to escape.
A U.S. loss, on the other hand, would revitalize the Jamaicans, tying them with the Americans at four points while carrying them back in the picture. In September, Jamaica defeated the U.S., 2-1, before the Hexagonal started, so a U.S. defeat would not be unprecedented.
It'd also throw away all of the good will built up by the Americans' victory over Germany. Fond memories of Jozy Altidore erasing his scoring drought in national play would be replaced by the unpleasantness of not taking care of business against a cellar-dweller.
Panama, Mexico and Honduras await the Americans in their following three matches, and none of them are pushovers. Each has scored more goals than the U.S. so far in qualifying play, with Honduras being the only one of the trio to have incurred a loss.
The Reggae Boyz, who have defied the odds by making it this far, have mustered just one goal through four matches. On paper, this inexperienced squad presents a golden opportunity for the U.S. to claim a "W."
From the outside looking in, it'd be a tremendous story if the Reggae Boyz caused the almighty Americans to sing the blues. From the U.S. team's perspective, it potentially leads to a calamity that will put a World Cup bid in jeopardy.
Although the World Cup is still far away, the U.S. must start executing its path to Brazil now.