September 3, 2012
U.S. depth to be tested vs. Jamaica
By Michael Lewis
The U.S. National Team's depth will be tested when it begins its home-and-away World Cup qualifying series with Jamaica on Friday.
Landon Donovan was not called into the team due to a hamstring injury that has bothered him in recent weeks.
Central midfielder Michael Bradley is out after suffering a right thigh strain while training with As Roma in Italy.
And Clint Dempsey, fresh off his dispute with Fulham and his 11th-hour transfer deal that sent him to Tottenham in the English Premier League, might be fit, but is hardly match fit.
Those three players are not merely starters, but premier players, cover boys, if you will, on the national side.
In the past, that might not necessarily concerned the Americans against the likes of Jamaica in qualifying, but the Reggae Boyz boast their best team since they reached soccer's promised land at France 1998.
This Jamaican team means business, boasting nine MLS-based players on its side.
After going 1-0-1 -- the Americans are tied for the group lead with Jamaica -- and not exactly playing its best soccer in a 3-1 win over Antigua & Barbuda and a 1-1 tie in Guatemala, the U.S. needs to earn a minimum of four points -- a win and draw in this vital CONCACAF Group A showdown. Anything less will be a disappointment.
Translated, this is time for some other players to step up and play key roles.
Such as Maurice Edu, who played so well at central defense in the stunning 1-0 win over Mexico in Mexico City on Aug. 15. He also can play central midfield, where there is a whole, although the new Stoke City player was listed as a defender
Such as Kyle Beckerman, who also stood out in the historic Mexico win. U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann has two options with which to pair him -- Jermaine Jones and Jose Torres. Jones, who seems to get a yellow card just about every time he plays for the USA, is a strong, physical defensive player. Torres, on the other hand, is a playmaker who has lacked consistency.
Such as Jozy Altidore has to show that his rapid start with AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch First Division wasn't a mistake, earn a starting position with the red, white and blue and make an impact on the field. Depending on what Klinsmann wants to do, he could deploy a single forward or a double strike force up front at The Office in Kingston, Jamaica on Friday. If Klinsmann wants a lone striker, he could go with Altidore, who has the speed and strength to play by himself up front. If he wants to use two players, then he could partner Herculez Gomez with the former New York Red Bull.
Depending on his fitness and game situation Dempsey probably could come in of the bench for a half hour or even 45 minutes.
Both teams will try to make some history.
The United States has never won a World Cup qualifier in Jamaica, going 0-0-4 and scoring only once at The Office -- on an Eddie Johnson goal in a 1-1 draw in 2004.
On the flip side, the Jamaicans have never beaten the U.S. in any international match, whether it be a friendly, WC qualifier or CONCACAF Gold Cup encounter. That streak is 18 games. The U.S. is 10-0-8 and the Reggae Boyz are 0-10-8.
If either side can make some history on the road, it will put them into the Group A drivers seat and put much more pressure on the losing team entering the final two games in October.
Yes, the top two teams from each of the three CONCACAF semifinal groups advance to next year's hexagonal but both teams can make it easier on themselves in this unique doubleheader confrontation.
For the U.S., it could very well come down to its depth.