Pat Brennan / Sports editor
The United States men’s national soccer team views its World Cup qualifying match against Jamaica as a cut-and-dry issue – they need to win.
Former U.S. national team star Brian McBride doesn’t share the current players’ desperation, but even he conceded that qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil becomes problematic if the team doesn’t take care of business against Jamaica Tuesday at Crew Stadium.
The Americans are trailing Jamaica in the semifinal round of World Cup qualifying after a 2-1 loss to the Jamaicans in Kingston, Jamaica, on Friday. The loss leaves the U.S. stuck in a second-place tie in the group with Guatemala. Only the top two teams from the four-team group will advance to the final round of qualifying.
A positive result seemed likely for the U.S. early in the Friday game as midfielder Clint Dempsey scored 36 seconds into the match to put his team up, 1-0. That was the last time the Americans’ offense would be heard from in the game as the Jamaican attack took center stage on its home field.
Midfielder Rodolph Austin pulled Jamaica level in the 24th minute before striker Luke Shelton scored the game-winner for Jamaica in the 62nd minute off a free kick.
During a Monday phone interview with The Lantern, McBride said that, despite the loss, now isn’t the right time to combine the words “must” and “win.”
“Whenever you are at home in qualifying, you have to view it as a game you want to win. A must-win – adding that word ‘must’ is only relevant when it’s you have to win or you’re out,” McBride told The Lantern. “That’s not necessarily the case here. Does (a loss) make things problematic? Yeah, definitely, that added pressure can be good, can be bad.”
Following a team training session Sunday in Crew Stadium, U.S. defender and captain Carlos Bocanegra, a member of the Spanish club Racing Santander, said Jamaica stretched the team’s defenses thin.
The stretched defense, Bocanegra said, was just one of several factors in the loss.
“I think (Jamaica) more tired us out. It was a little bit of a frustrating match,” Bocanegra said. “You know, the field wasn’t great. They were coming through us, the ref wasn’t calling much but it wasn’t just bad for us. It was bad both ways. So, we need to adapt to that.”
The last time the U.S. and Jamaica met in a World Cup qualifier at Crew Stadium was Nov. 17, 2004, and the teams drew, 1-1, before a crowd of more than 9,000 that sat in a cold rain. A sellout crowd is forecast for Tuesday’s game, though, and those fans are likely to see a revamped approach from the American side.
Dempsey, the first American-born player to ever score a hat-trick in the English Premier League and the current owner of the record for most goals scored in a single EPL season by a U.S. player (13), elaborated on what the U.S. will need to do against Jamaica in the rematch.
“Playing with a little more confidence. Playing with a little more urgency,” Dempsey said of the Americans’ likely strategy on Tuesday. “Do a better job of keeping possession and do a better job of creating chances.”
Dempsey also claimed that Tuesday’s match is a must win, saying, “it’s about getting results and getting three points on Tuesday.”
Positives can be drawn from last week’s loss in Kingston, McBride said, and the situation is not all doom and gloom.
“What I’d love to see is the U.S. play the passionate, quick-paced, possession passing game that they’ve been doing leading up to the Jamaica game,” McBride told The Lantern. “That’s what I sort of expect to see and I hope to see a win.”