September 11, 2012
By Michael Lewis
A MUST-WIN SITUATION
U.S. must get three points vs. Jamaica
There is no doubt -- no doubt -- that the United States’ World Cup qualifier against Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday (8pm ET ESPN/Galavision) is a must-win game.
Lose that game and the Americans will find themselves in a deep hole in CONCACAF Group A behind leaders Jamaica and Guatemala.
This is how things look entering Tuesday’s game:
The Jamaicans (2-0-1, seven points), followed by Guatemala (1-1-1, four), the U.S. (1-1-1, four) and Antigua & Barbuda (0-2-1, one).
The U.S. cannot afford the group to look like this late Tuesday night, assuming the Reggae Boyz prevail and the Guatemalans best Antigua (which lost its starting goalkeeper to a yellow card):
Jamaica (3-0-1, 10), Guatemala (2-1-1, seven), U.S. (1-2-1, four) and Antigua (0-3-1, one).
So, the Americans will be under pressure to produce, or else. The U.S. will be forced to run the table in their final two matches just to reach the final round — at Antigua on Oct. 12 on the road, and Guatemala in Kansas City on Oct. 16.
“Pressure is always there in World Cup qualifiers, which is a wonderful thing because it’s important,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We have no problem with that so we know we have to bounce back and prove everybody wrong in Columbus.”
A lot went wrong in the U.S.’s 2-1 defeat in Kingston, Jamaica on Friday, the Americans’ first loss to a Caribbean team in a World Cup qualifier of consequence since a loss to Haiti in 1969, a little more than 43 years.
The U.S. has have lost only one qualifier at home qualifier to a Caribbean team — 1-0 to Haiti in San Diego in 1969. The Americans have a 15-1-3 record and a 14-0-3 home unbeaten streak in qualifiers against the likes of Bermuda, Trinidad & Tobago, Haiti, the Netherlands Antilles, Barbados, Grenada, Cuba, Antigua & Barbuda and Jamaica at home.
Of course, this has become a year for a number of famous firsts, including American first wins in Italy and Mexico and the Jamaicans registering their first victory over the U.S. on Friday, breaking an 18-game winless streak (0-10-8).
Both teams have four days of rest between qualifiers. While the Jamaicans enjoy the afterglow of their accomplishment, the U.S. must get rid of a bitter taste from their mouths.
“We’ve got to get a win,” midfielder-forward Clint Dempsey said. “It hurt us not getting any points [Friday night]. We’ll get this taste out of our mouths because it’s not a good feeling.”
Indeed, it wasn’t.
“It’s not a lot of time to dwell on a loss,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “We didn’t play well [Friday]. The game on Tuesday has more significance than ever because we need to get back into rhythm and a positive mind frame. We have to come away with three points. That’s a necessity now.”
In fact, forward Herculez Gomez would rather face the Reggae Boyz much sooner than later.
“I wish we could play them tomorrow,” he said after Friday’s game. “It’s good that we get to play them on Tuesday and we’re going to go from there. We let one slip today and we’re chomping at the bit to get our opportunity again.”
Dempsey said he was looking forward to playing on a better field at Columbus Crew Stadium, where the U.S. is unbeaten in six qualifiers (4-0-2) since 2000. The Americans are 5-0-3 at the stadium lifetime.
“The pitch will be better so it’ll move a little bit quicker,” he said Friday. “Tonight it felt like we were almost fighting with the ball, it kept bouncing up. It’ll be good to get back to normality. Using Nike balls on the pitches we play on, I think we can show our strengths. It makes for a difficult game when you come down here and the ball bounces up and bobbles the way it does. Both teams have to deal with it and I’m not making excuses, but I don’t think it makes for the best football being played for the fans to watch.”