Last month at the Olympics, the whole world saw just how fast Jamaicans can run, and though Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake won’t be on the field with the Reggae Boyz in a World Cup qualifier against the United States Friday night, the Americans know they will have to put on their jets to keep up.
Jamaica has one of the biggest, fastest, most athletic teams in the CONCACAF region, and the atmosphere at Kingston’s National Stadium, known as The Office, is sure to be electric. “No way, USA!” is the mantra of the Jamaican fans this week, and their beloved team hopes to follow up on the island nation’s Olympic success.
The United States has never lost to Jamaica, going 10-0-8, but the Americans have settled for ties in all four World Cup qualifiers played on Jamaican soil. This time, the United States will be missing two key players and experienced leaders — Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley. Donovan is out with a hamstring injury, and Bradley has an injured thigh. Clint Dempsey, whose transfer from Fulham to Tottenham was big news last week, has not played since June.
The Jamaican attack is led by speedsters Dane Richards, Luke Shelton and Darren Mattocks, a trio that will keep the U.S. midfield and back line on its toes.
There is little room for error, as the United States and Jamaica face each other twice in the next five days, and neither wants to fall behind in the group standings. The second leg of the home-and-home series is at Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. The teams are tied atop their group with four points each, ahead of Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda, which have one point apiece. The top two teams advance to the six-nation hexagonal final round next year, where they will likely face Mexico, Honduras and Costa Rica. Three of the six earn berths in the 2014 World Cup, and the fourth-place team enters a playoff against the winner of the Oceania region for another spot.
This has been a year of firsts for the U.S. team. It won for the first time in Italy and also won its first game on Mexican soil in 75 years. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann feels those historic victories, while exhibitions, gave the players confidence that they can break longtime winless streaks anywhere.
“It helps in terms of their own belief,” Klinsmann said. “For certain results, you need a little bit of luck, which we had in Italy and Mexico. But it’s also down to great performances from players. If we do our homework and are prepared to take every piece of what we do seriously, we can beat big nations away from home. But it doesn’t give you a guarantee…we have to go into Jamaica, respect them and be prepared to give everything we have in order to get a good result there.”
Jamaican manager Theodore Whitmore said his team is confident and ready for the challenge. Nine of the Jamaican players make a living in Major League Soccer, so they are very familiar with American players.
“We’re looking forward to the big one against the mighty USA,” Whitmore said. “We are prepared and getting ready to do the job on Friday night.”
The last time the teams played, in the 2011 Gold Cup quarterfinal, the United States won 2-0. The Reggae Boyz lost a pair of friendlies against Panama earlier in the year and wound up with a demoralizing 0-0 draw in a World Cup qualifier against Antigua & Barbuda.