Can Team USA Overcome Last Week's Embarrassing Loss to Jamaica?
The dust has settled, somewhat, from the U.S.'s "shock" defeat in Kingston to Jamaica on Friday night in the second round of CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifying. Every round of qualifying for the United States is filled with some temporary peril, even if it only lasts a few days -- or hours.
You'd have to go back to 1989 for the last time the United States faced a true do-or-die scenario, when it needed Paul Caliguiri's famous goal in Trinidad to punch a ticket to Italia 1990 -- ushering in the new era of American soccer we're all a part of now.
For whatever the reason -- mostly due to the flat performance vs. the Reggae Boyz -- it seems like this is a genuine, bona fide, six-car crisis for coach Jurgen Klinsmann ahead of Tuesday night's game in Columbus. (8 p.m., ESPN2)
In simplest terms, a loss (or draw) to Jamaica, isn't good but it's not the end of the world either. It leaves you playing the what-if game with the remaining four matches in October at home vs. Guatemala and at Antigua and Barbuda. Factor in the potential of goal differential rearing its head and it's could create a massive headache where the U.S. might have to go to the Caribbean minnow needing to win by a bunch of goals. (A U.S. win vs. Jamaica and a Guatemala win against Antigua makes it a three-way tie at seven points, have fun sorting out those permutations.)
This just feels a little different than the typical U.S. qualifying crisis.
Throw out the 1994 World Cup, which the U.S. qualified as hosts and the remaining four have all had their hiccups, so maybe let's place the Jamaica loss in some perspective before we all grab pitch forks and torches to burn off Kyle Beckerman's dreadlocks.
Coach: Steve Sampson
Group Round: 4-1-1, first place including a loss at Costa Rica (you'll note a trend). U.S. finished with 13 points, one clear of Costa Rica, five of Guatemala.
Hexagonal: 4-1-5 (W/L/D), second place to Mexico, including a draw at the Azteca and a loss at Costa Rica at the Saprissa Stadium. U.S. was three points clear of third-place Jamaica, five of fourth-place Costa Rica, which didn't qualify.
Coach: Bruce Arena
Group Round: 3-1-2, first place one point ahead of Costa Rica and Guatemala, including a loss at Costa Rica.
Hexagonal: 5-3-2, third place (tied with second-place Mexico on GD), three points clear of Honduras.
Coach: Bruce Arena
Group Round: 3-0-3 ... smooth sailing with the win at home, draw on road philosophy
Hexagonal: 7-2-1, losses at Costa Rica and Mexico, but U.S. won group and qualified first with a win over Mexico in Columbus.
Coach: Bob Bradley
Group Round: 5-1-0, first place with a loss at Trinidad.
Hexagonal: 6-2-2, first place with losses ... wait for it ... at Mexico and Costa Rica.
Summation? CONCACAF qualification has been pretty easy for the United States, bar some trouble in 2002 in a similar transitional cycle when Bruce Arena brought in a bunch of MLS guys who'd turn out to be Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Clint Mathis, etc. The process in 2006 and 2010 was a cinch, as the U.S. finally flexed it's muscles to become the No. 1 power in the region.
If Klinsmann can coax the U.S. to six points -- at home in welcoming places named Columbus and Kansas City -- all the teeth gnashing over the lost night in Kingston will be forgotten -- perhaps not the dreadful, lack of direction play, but the result will wash away to the sands of history.
More than that, it seems a little anecdotal without a ton of hard evidence but if 2012 is to be counted the tide seems to have risen across CONCACAF past the usual powers of the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica (a distant third). Antigua and Barbuda, an automatic 3-point ATM, hasn't been atrocious despite losing three matches it's goal difference is a respectable -4. Elsewhere Jamaica is clearly improved, Canada (finally) pointed in the right direction and Panama a darkhorse to qualify. Realistically, nothing against Guatemala, but we've seen enough of the Carlos Ruiz-helmed team in recent years, some fresh blood in the CONCACAF mix can only be considered a good thing.
For context, in this current round of qualifying of the 12 active teams only mighty Mexico is 3-0-0 and whereas only lowly Cuba is 0-3-0. Costa Rica is in the same boat as the U.S., sitting at 1-1-1 and the Ticos play at the Azteca Tuesday and at third-place El Salvador in their following match.
Perspective and context are nice things to have, yet it doesn't help when Klinsmann tells the media on Monday in the lede of the Associated Press game preview that, "No, we won't lose ... Don't worry." That's backing himself into a corner and setting up for an epic second-guess and actual, tangible pressure on the U.S. coach, not only from losers like me with a blog and free time on my hands. Maybe he was just having a laugh to relieve pressure, but should the U.S. fall apart at Crew Stadium, that quote will be hard to live down.
And it's not going to be easy in Columbus, a locale that's always boded well for the Americans.
For one, Jamaica should expect to have some hangover from taking bows -- and the national party -- from beating the Americans on Friday. Replicating that performance three days later, on the road seems unlikely.
Just as unlikely, how does Klinsmann patch it up?
Everyone who's ever watched soccer quickly pointed out to the fact Edu/Beckerman/Jones together in a midfield doesn't work. You don't have to be Zonal Marking to pick up on that. No distribution, no service, no game plan, no bit of anything positive -- bar reckless tackles -- from three of your four midfielders isn't a strategy that will work. Call it the Animal House: "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life," argument.
Given the limitations of the roster Klinsmann assembled for these two games, what other options does he have? Throw Brek Shea out there on the left wing and hope he lumps in some crosses Jozy Altidore -- who is taking the 'Where's Waldo' aspect of the U.S. striped jerseys a little too literally -- to run onto? Hope Clint Dempsey is superhuman and physically fit for another 90 minutes, finding time to pull a rabbit out of his bag of tricks, again? A goal from a tall defender on a set piece?
Unless you place a lot of faith in Jose Torres becoming a metronomic-passing, North American equivalent of Xavi overnight, Klismann's only real course of action is hoping that the sting of the loss from Friday coupled with a few more days of training makes the midfielders he called in better. In a must-win is Klinsmann willing to risk a Joe Corona or a Graham Zusi in a crucial creative role? Those are his only other options.
It seems a doom-and-gloom scenario, but if watching the U.S. play soccer over the last two decades there's one thing we've seemed to learn: when you expect the least, the team seems to find a way to play its best.
GK -- Howard
DEF -- Cherundolo -- Bocanegra -- Cameron -- Johnson
MID -- Torres -- Beckerman -- Dempsey -- Shea
FOR -- Altidore -- Gomez