Since the U.S. Men's National Team takes on Jamaica in back-to-back World Cup Qualifiers, - this Friday and then Tuesday, September 11th - I'd like to lend my support to my fellow USA fans. Typically, this involves exaggerating statistics, eating, drinking, and taunting opposing fans through song and witty remarks. So, without further adieu, here's my USA v JAM breakdown....
If the country of Jamaica was on Sesame Street, that episode would definitely be brought to you by the letter "B". Jamaica is famous for all sorts of things that begin with the letter "B". For example, "Bob", as in Bob Marley, the iconic reggae singer whose music inspires thousands of students at the University of California, Santa Cruz (and USMNT midfielder Kyle Beckerman) to only shower once per semester. Another example: "bobsled", as in the Jamaican Bobsled Team, memorialized in the classic John Candy film "Cool Runnings". And in the world of non-ice-related sports? "Bolt", as in Usain Bolt, the Jamaican sprinter who makes Dane Richards look like Cuauhtémoc Blanco at the 2010 World Cup (read: slow).
Here's a quick overview of Jamaica's record in competitive international tournaments. Jamaica has qualified for the World Cup a staggering 1 time (in 1998). Since finishing in fourth place (third loser, in my book) at the Gold Cup in 1998, Jamaica has failed to make it past the quarterfinals of this CONCACAF tournament. To be fair, Jamaica consistently finds itself the winner of the Caribbean Cup, beating out soccer juggernauts like Antigua and Barbuda, Guadeloupe, and Haiti. Good on you, Jamaica. Good on you.
Despite past failures, Jamaica comes into Friday's World Cup Qualifiers feeling optimistic, with the Jamaican Football Federation's official preview of the match adopting the catchy, yet ultimately unrealistic, slogan "Jamaica on a mission, on a journey, and on target for a victory". Their roster features 9 - count 'em, 9 - players from the MLS, including several "household names in houses that watch MLS" like Omar Cummings, Ryan Johnson, Darren Mattocks, and the aforementioned Dane Richards.
MLS fans will be well aware of Johnson's ability to score spectacular goals, albeit for the most unspectacular club in the league (and perhaps the world), Toronto FC. Meanwhile, Richards will likely look to use his ability to run insanely fast to punish the Yanks on the counter-attack. USA fans shouldn't be too worried about Richards - a few sloppy "F You, Neymar" tackles from bad boy Jermaine Jones should slow him down considerably - but his speed should not be underestimated. Rumor has it Richards recently sprinted all the way from Red Bull Arena in New York to his new home at BC Place in Vancouver, since it "would just be quicker" than flying in a plane. Rumor also has it that the trip took him 4.5 hours. Scary fast!
Tactically, the USA bossed the central midfield the last time they took on the Reggae Boyz, when we posted a 2-0 victory in the 2011 Gold Cup quarterfinals. Formation-wise, Jamaican pundits have suggested that a 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 would best play to Jamaica's strengths, with the offense primarily focused on working the ball up the wing and putting in crosses to test Tim Howard. However, Jamaican player-turned-coach Theo Whitmore has not yet announced whether he'll be taking a page from John Candy's playbook, and trotting out the famous 1-1-1-1 formation traditionally used by the Jamaican bobsled team. While this approach would certainly be unorthodox, I'd say it can't be ruled out entirely - but only time will tell.
Statistics sez: According to FIFA, the USA boasts an undefeated 10-8-0 record against the Reggae Boyz. Not impressed? Think about it in terms of win percentage, then. The USA's win percentage against Jamaica is approximately 56%, while Jamaica's win percentage is a big fat zero.
Naysayers will point out other, less flattering statistics: that the USMNT has never won a World Cup qualifier on Jamaican soil; that 4 out of the last 5 qualifiers against Jamaica have ended in a draw; and that the USA has only won twice in qualifying against Jamaica, ever (out of 8 matches). To these naysayers, I'd point out that all these statistics can be "revamped" to favor the USA: the USMNT has never LOST a qualifier on Jamaican soil; the USMNT is UNDEFEATED in 5 of the last 5 qualifiers; and Jamaica has won ZERO qualifying matches (or any matches, for that matter) against the USA. Then I'd ask the naysayers why they're being such downers. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, naysayers, and I'd say the statistical record between the USA and Jamaica is beautiful indeed.
What I'm eating: The national dish of Jamaica is ackee and saltfish - a combination of dry salted cod, onions, tomatoes, spices, and boiled ackee, a pear-shaped fruit related to the lychee. The best part? If the ackee you eat isn't ripe enough, you'll quickly come down with a case of Jamaican vomiting sickness, characterized by the sudden onset of vomiting, dehydration, seizures, or even death! I have to hand it to you, Jamaica - it's pretty awesome that your national dish carries with it the risk of death. But America will not be outdone - not on USMNT gameday.
If it's death-inducing food you're looking for, the USA has it "on lock", with the "Quadruple Bypass Burger" from Heart Attack Grill in Las Vegas, NV: four 8-oz beef patties, four pieces of American cheese, onion, tomato, special sauce: and a whopping 10,000 calories. Eating ackee and saltfish may create a risk of death, but eating this burger practically guarantees it. So support the USA on gameday by gorging yourself on one of these burgers while you watch the match - and take comfort in the fact that if you die, at least you will have died watching your beloved USMNT.
What I'm drinking: You know, I've always been a sucker for Red Stripe beer. The stubby brown bottles, the hilarious commercials, the awesome slogan ("Hooray, Beer!") - it's everything I've ever wanted in a beer. But when the USMNT plays Jamaica, there's an extra reason to like Red Stripe: it's now brewed in America! That's right, drinking down a cold Red Stripe is no longer a reminder of the laid-back Jamaican lifestyle, but instead is a reminder of America's economic superiority and dominion over every other country, ever. I'd usually never advocate drinking a USMNT opponent's beer on game day. But nothing will stick it to Jamaica like drinking the beer that was once the pride of Jamaica, and is now the pride of mass beverage producer City Brewing, LLC in Latrobe, PA. Hooray, Irony!