The U.S. national soccer team arrived in Kingston, Jamaica, on Tuesday to give players three days to get acclimated to the island’s heat and humidity before facing the Reggae Boyz on Friday night at 9:30 in a World Cup qualifying match.
As it turns out, the Jamaicans will be feeling even more heat. They are in danger of elimination after a 1-0 loss to Mexico on Tuesday. Jamaica is in last place in the six-team group with two points through four matches.
Mexico leads with six points, followed by Panama (five). Costa Rica, the United States and Honduras all have four points, but Costa Rica has the best goal differential. The U.S. is in fourth place after losing to Honduras 2-1, beating Costa Rica 1-0 in the “Snow Bowl” in Denver and tying Mexico 0-0. The top three teams advance to the 2014 World Cup, and the fourth-place team enters a playoff against New Zealand.
The Americans know from past experience just how difficult the atmosphere can be at Kingston’s National Stadium, nicknamed “The Office.” The 35,000-seat stadium has a bumpy field, and fans are quite boisterous.
Last September, the U.S. lost 2-1 in Kingston in World Cup qualifying group play, its first loss to Jamaica in 19 matches.
Midfielder Michael Bradley was injured and missing from the U.S. lineup that night, which certainly made a difference. Clint Dempsey, though he scored the lone U.S. goal, was not in peak form, nor was Jozy Altidore. But the biggest reasons the Jamaicans won were that they were hungrier, and the U.S. committed two costly fouls in the area that led to both Jamaican goals.
This time, the U.S. comes in bolstered by Bradley, an in-form Dempsey and Altidore, and a wave of confidence following a 4-3 friendly victory over Germany in Washington last Sunday.
Altidore scored in that game, at last proving that he can score in his U.S. jersey. He scored 31 goals this season for his Dutch club, AZ Alkmaar, the most ever for an American playing in Europe. But Altidore had not found the back of the net for the U.S. since November of 2011.
Dempsey scored two goals against Germany, moving into second place on the all-time U.S. scoring list behind Landon Donovan.
“It gives you confidence,” Dempsey said. “Any time you have confidence from a win, it puts more wind in your sails. You feel by getting a result against a team like this that you can go down there and get the job done in these CONCACAF games.”
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann hopes his team is sharp after the win over Germany and a tough friendly loss to a spectacular Belgian team.
“It helps the players to see that they can go to that tempo,” Klinsmann said of playing top European teams. “That’s why I didn’t want them to stop too early and make substitutions.”
Klinsmann was especially pleased with the performance of his captain Dempsey.
“What is most important is the drive he has, the hunger,” Klinsmann said. “You know he’s not satisfied with two goals [Sunday] against Germany. He always looks for the next game.”
Jamaica, meanwhile, has tough upcoming matches against the U.S. and Honduras. Coach Theodore Whitmore remains optimistic.
“We are just one win away [from getting back in the hunt],” he said. “Come Friday night, we have to show what we are really made of going into the U.S. game. We know it is going to be tough; we set out to play 10 tough games.”
Jamaican fans have been crying out for the inclusion of Jermaine “Tuffy” Anderson, the leading scorer in their national league the past two years. But Whitmore didn’t bite.
“I believe in the team, and I will continue to work with the players we have for the U.S. and Honduras game,” Whitmore said.
The game will be televised on BeIN Sport.