September 10, 2012
Meola: Columbus should be a 'completely different scenario' for the U.S.
By Michael Lewis
Take it from Tony Meola, a voice of experience in international soccer and then some.
As bad as things may look for the U.S. National Team in the wake of its 2-1 World Cup qualifying loss at Jamaica on Friday, the Americans should be able to turn it around in Columbus, Ohio on Tuesday night.
"Is the U.S. capable? Absolutely, 100 percent," the National Soccer Hall of Famer and former U.S. international goalkeeper said. "I'm convinced that this will be a completely different scenario."
He added: "I'm convinced it will be different on Tuesday. There is no reason to panic. If they lose on Tuesday night, then you panic."
The Jamaicans lead CONCACAF Group A, followed by the U.S. and Guatemala, both with 1-1-1 records and four points apiece, and Antigua and Barbuda (0-2-1, one).
During the past 24 years of World Cup qualifying, the Americans have a history of bouncing back at home after a road loss.
"For sure, when you look at this stage, that is the most difficult game of the group going away there," Meola said by telephone from Columbus on Monday. "That is out of the way. Now it is very clear what they have to do. It's a different scenario in Columbus. You're got to worry. You know you have a team that is capable of beating the U.S. in this group and it has been proven. And you can't let it happen again."
Meola admitted the Reggae Boyz might come into the game a bit loose because they already have three points in their back pockets.
"I would have been a lot more concerned if they had lost at home and they had to go down to Jamaica," he said.
That would have been a heck of a lot more concerning. They're very good at home, very good here in Columbus. The tactics will be different. They [the U.S.] will attack.
"The scariest part is that they [the Jamaicans] are playing with house money. They can just about try anything they want. A tie for them, for me, virtually puts them through."
The Kingston fiasco on Friday? The less said about it, the better. But Meola certainly had something to say. He admitted he had problems watching the game – the game was in limited distribution on beIN before he was able to find a stream on line.
"From 1990 to watch ABC and watch World Cup qualifiers and I'm watching on a computer," he said. "I don't understand. Maybe I am missing something."
The U.S. certainly was missing something at The Office.
"It wasn't a great performance," Meola said. "I've been thinking about the last day or two. Does a first-minute goal help or hurt sometimes. It just seemed when that goal happened -- as early as it was, I can't imagine sitting back was the game plan from the start -- we just let Jamaica come at us.
"Giving up two free kick goals is never great, one a deflection, it was unfortunate. It should never happen."
During his time on the computer, Meola said he saw five free kicks given up by the Americans "in dangerous positions."
"We seemed to have three guys in the middle of the field and we were still making desperation tackles," he said. "The last foul was not a good foul leading to the free kick, chasing from behind. You just can't give teams that too many opportunities."
"With so many [three] defensive midfielders, why are there so many free kicks 20, 25 yards outside the middle of the field? That should be a position that is locked up. Why are we chasing at that point?"
Of course, there were two teams on the field and Meola praised the Reggae Boyz.
"What I could see, I saw very well was the athleticism of the Jamaican National Team," he said. "They seemed one step ahead of us in every play, getting to balls quicker than we were. And maybe they were amped up with the home crowd. I'm sure it was crazy when they tied it up and from that point on they were believing and they thought they had a chance."
Playing in the Caribbean or Central America is always a dicey situation for the U.S. National Team.
During his tenure leading up to the 1994 World Cup, U.S. national coach Bora Milutinovic had the team perform in other parts of CONCACAF, even though the U.S. was the host of the 1994. But players received valuable lessons on playing in hostile territory in front of fanatical fans, in hot and humid weather and on fields that were barely playable. It certainly helped the player in the 1998 and 2002 qualifying runs. When Bruce Arena was coach, he had the U.S. play in Costa Rica, Meola said.
"It felt like a qualifier, the friendly," Meola said.
The U.S. wants to play some of the best teams in the world -- Spain, Brazil and Italy -- to push and measure themselves. That, in turn will push out potential CONCACAF foes in an already crowded international calendar.
Meola admitted he had no easy solutions.
"I don't know what the answer is," he said. "I'm sure you want to play against the best teams. Let me tell you, when you go play England in England and Italy in Italy, you're playing on the nicest surfaces. It's beautiful. It isn't all roses when you go down there [in CONCACAF]. Fields are not in great condition. It changes the game a little bit. These are not excuses. And I don't think the U.S. is using any of them as excuses. It is a part of it we have to get acclimated to a little bit. They've got to find a way to win the game."
Meola is in Columbus with AllState Insurance in which he surprised a youth team during on Monday session with a special "Good Hands(r) F.C." soccer clinic. He hosted a team practice as guest coach and Allstate presented each player on the team with new gear and tickets to the qualifier.
"A big thrill for me," Meola said.
At the game, Meola will be in the Allstate Fan Zone, meeting and greeting fans, talk the beautiful game and hear everyone's opinions of the qualifier.