USA vs. Jamaica: USMNT Veterans Who Need to Step Up Their Game
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The members of the United States Men's National Team enter Friday's matchup against Jamaica with nothing left to do in CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying.
They've qualified for the big event in Brazil in the summer of 2014, which means the remaining games are nothing more than trial runs to make sure the players are prepared and in form for soccer's biggest stage.
Young players and veterans alike must perform at a high level as head coach Jurgen Klinsmann plans out his preferred roster and starting formation for the World Cup.
Having already discussed the young American players who must step up and prove themselves against The Reggae Boyz in a previous article for Bleacher Report, here are my picks for the veteran American stars who must prove themselves starting on Friday against the Jamaicans.
It seems like only yesterday when Howard was throwing the ball out to Landon Donovan's feet to start the attack and create a game-winning goal against Algeria at the 2010 World Cup.
But since then, things haven't been the same for Howard.
The former lock to be the keeper for the USMNT through at least the 2014 World Cup has come under fire lately due to a lack of form in the Premier League, combined with excellent play from Brad Guzan.
Or you could put it a bit more bluntly, as Kevin McCauley of SBNation did in this tweet.
Tim Howard has been worse than Brad Guzan for like 18 months...— Kevin McCauley (@kevinmccauley) September 7, 2013
Given recent performances in the Premier League, that's hard to argue.
Brad Guzan has been among the best keepers in the EPL, while Howard's Everton have allowed seven goals in the last three games.
Compare that to Howard, who is rated outside of the top 10 at his position.
Howard has to perform well against Jamaica to build his case for remaining the starter for the USMNT through the 2014 World Cup.
There's a case to be made that Guzan is the better player, and Klinsmann may elect to give Guzan a chance to prove that point if Howard doesn't show improvement for the national team.
Similar to Howard, things have not been the same for Landon Donovan since that memorable moment against the Algerians in the last World Cup.
He's battled injuries and an apparent disinterest in continuing to play soccer, according to an interview with ESPN.
He's found himself back in the proper state of mind but still has much to prove to validate his presence as a starter and regular contributor for his national team.
He has 10 goals and seven assists this season for the LA Galaxy and has chipped in eight goals for the national team so far in 2013. That's a fine run of form, but most of it has come against weaker competition in the MLS and during the Gold Cup.
But he did what he does best against Mexico during a recent World Cup qualifier, as he got into a good attacking position to finish a great cross from Mix Diskerud.
You can see the highlight of the play in the video below.
He has to continue that level of play and continue to work well with the new leader of the USMNT, Clint Dempsey, to justify his position as one of the key contributors for the national team.
Jones is the oldest outfield player on the current USMNT roster, yet his advanced age doesn't result in more disciplined and controlled play on the pitch, as pointed out by Kyle Martino on Twitter.
Jermaine Jones' penchant for yellows is a dangerous reality when approaching a World Cup format.— Kyle Martino (@kylemartino) August 27, 2013
Since 2007, Jones has posted double-digit yellow card totals across all competitions every year and is off to a quick start in the 2013-2014 season with three yellow cards so far. In fact, he has more yellow cards than shots on goal so far this season.
Jones is a veteran player with a lot of experience at high levels of competition, but he gets himself into trouble with a lack of self-control.
And if he's not contributing to the attack (and so far this season at the club level, he's not), the USMNT has plenty of other options who can take over the role of midfield partner for Michael Bradley.
If Jones plays against Jamaica, he'll need to put in a smart, versatile shift with both positive attacking and defensive moments, or he may find that young up-and-comers like Mix Diskerud will be taking his playing time and his chance at being on the World Cup roster.
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