Aug. 15: The U.S. national team beats Mexico in Mexico for the first time! Wow! Watershed moment! Bust a piñata! Jurgen Klinsmann is really turning things around.
Sept. 7: Jamaica stuns the United States 2-1 in Kingston and takes over the top spot in their World Cup qualifying group. Oh, no! Gasp! Major step backward. Maybe Klinsmann isn’t all that wonderful, after all.
Sept. 11: Klinsmann makes five lineup changes, they all pay off, the United States dominates and beats Jamaica 1-0 in front of a spirited crowd in Columbus, Ohio. The United States reclaims the top spot in the group. Maybe this Klinsmann guy does know what he’s doing.
Yes, U.S. soccer fans can be a fickle bunch, and they have been on a roller coaster of late.
This time last week, many American fans were disappointed and panicking after the loss to Jamaica. Granted, veteran leaders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley are injured and didn’t play, but still, the star-spangled fans don’t expect their team — a team that has qualified for the past six World Cups — to be sitting behind Jamaica and neck-and-neck with the likes of Guatemala.
Only two of the four teams in the group advance to the six-team hexagonal qualifying round next year, and the United States could not afford another loss.
He put captain Carlos Bocanegra back in central defense, which provided a calming influence on the back line. He put heady, steady Steve Cherundolo at right back, which kept Jamaica’s speedy wingers at bay and also provided the perfect partner for new U.S. winger Graham Zusi, a native of Longwood who plays for Major League Soccer’s Sporting Kansas City. Zusi made some great runs and had a shot rejected by the crossbar.
He played Danny Williams at defensive midfield, and he played his best game in a U.S. jersey. Williams did a good job holding the ball, made some pinpoint passes and was rarely caught out of position. He also nearly scored on a 30-foot rocket that bounced off the frame. He filled in nicely for Bradley and might have earned himself a spot alongside Bradley when the veteran returns.
Klinsmann also decided to play Zusi and Jose Torres at the wings. Torres wasn’t as effective as Zusi, but both played well, particularly in the first half. Despite Jozy Altidore’s recent club success at AZ Alkmaar, Klinsmann chose to keep Herculez Gomez up front with Clint Dempsey. Gomez has a terrific work rate, battled hard and provided the game’s lone goal, a curling free kick in the 55th minute.
So, the United States, Guatemala and Jamaica each have seven points with two games to go in this round, with the United States and Guatemala ahead because of goals scored. Up next for Klinsmann’s team: a road game at group minnow Antigua and a home game against Guatemala in Kansas City. Jamaica plays in Guatemala City, so odds are, the United States will advance, along with the winner of the Jamaica-Guatemala game.
In South America, the surprise team has been Colombia. After not qualifying for the 2002, ’06 or ’10 World Cups, the Colombians are in second place, one point behind leader Argentina. Ecuador is third. Uruguay and Chile are fourth and fifth, with 12 points, and Venezuela is sixth with 11.
Only three points separate first place from sixth at the midway point, an indication of how intense and close World Cup qualifying is in CONMEBOL.