There’s no parsing the importance of Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier for the U.S. national team.
“It’s huge,” forward Jozy Altidore told reporters of the game with Jamaica at a sold-out Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. “We have to win. Everybody feels that a little bit. If we don’t win, it gets pretty scary.”
Only the top two teams in the four-nation group move on to next year’s final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2014 World Cup. After losing to Jamaica for the first time ever last week in Kingston, anything less than a victory Tuesday could drop the U.S. behind both Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala with two games left.
“We didn’t get the result we wanted in Jamaica, which puts us in a position that we have to get those points back,” U.S. Coach Juergen Klinsmann said Monday. “Pressure is always there in professional sports. Winning, which is our goal and which we are focused on, puts us back in pole position in that group.
“Pressure and expectations is just part of the professional environment. That’s no problem.”
But injuries are. The U.S. remains without midfielders Landon Donovan and Michael Bradley, who are nursing injuries. Defender Clarence Goodson will also be sidelined Tuesday because of yellow card accumulation. But Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, who both sat out the loss in Jamaica, are expected to return to the back line.
Klinsmann will need more than a new lineup to beat Jamaica — he’ll also need a new game plan. In the first match the U.S. played a “diamond” midfield, hoping to control possession and keep the ball away from Jamaica’s speedy midfielders. That didn’t work with Clint Dempsey, at the top of the diamond, getting too few touches while the rest of the midfield conceded possession and the Jamaicans continually won free kicks.
The Americans will try to keep the ball wide in the rematch, crossing it in to create scoring chances.
“We tried to play balls into the forwards that were far too complicated instead of just keeping the ball and playing simple,” Klinsmann said. “We talked about the width of the field and not using that enough.”
The U.S. will also have to be more physical and win the one-on-one battles, Klinsmann said.
“We know,” Dempsey said, “that we can play at a better level.”