The United States will round out its home World Cup qualifiers on Friday in a far different mood than when they began seven months ago. When Costa Rica came to visit in March, the U.S. were coming in off the back off a 2-1 defeat in Honduras to open the Hexagonal, accompanied by eports of unrest between several players and coach Jurgen Klinsmann. But in a now infamous match, extraordinarily allowed to be completed in a fierce blizzard, the U.S. prevailed over Costa Rica in Colorado with a gutsy 1-0 win. The team has never looked back. A year that started with talk of a crisis is ending as one of its best ever.
With the visit of Jamaica to Kansas City, Klinsmann is already speaking of looking ahead to Brazil next year courtesy of the U.S. topping the Hex and already having their tickets booked to the finals. Not only has that primary objective been achieved, but the U.S. has also amassed a win at the Gold Cup this summer, a record 12-match win streak and an impressive friendly victory in Bosnia in August.
All currently looks rosy for the U.S., but Klinsmann is well aware that work is only real beginning for the real task of making the team a force at the World Cup rather than simply making up the numbers.
“Once you achieve the goal of qualifying, you understand that the next higher level is already waiting for us,” he explained to USSoccer.com. “The World Cup is a couple of levels higher up than World Cup Qualifying, even if it’s not an easy thing to go through.
“The benchmark in the World Cup is far higher, so whatever we do now already prepares us for that. Everything we do now sets the tone for summer of 2014, and therefore it’s important the players understand this is serious business. We want to see an improvement of the entire squad, and we want to see competition in every spot. You only have to say one word: Brazil. Then you automatically get fired up.”
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Klinsmann is likely to get a look at several fringe players on Friday, with Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Omar Gonzalez and Eddie Johnson among those ruled out. Brad Davis, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco and Chris Wondolowski have been called up late into the squad.
The match may now be more about preparation for the future for the U.S., but Jamaica still has something riding on the game. Despite taking just four points from its first eight matches, Winfried Schafer’s side can still mathematically qualify if it wins its final two matches and Mexico and Panama draw on Friday and then fail to win their final qualifiers.
D: Evans, Besler, Goodson, Beasley
M: Donovan, Jones, Cameron, Zusi
F: Altidore, Johansson
D: Mariappa, Taylor, Cummings, Phillips
M: McAnuff, Austin, Watson, McCleary
F: Johnson, King
Prediction: Despite needing a win to have any chance of qualification, Jamaica is likely to come with a game plan of sitting deep and frustrating its opponents in the hope of pouncing on a rare chance going forward. Having not scored a single goal on their travels to date in the Hexagonal, the signs are not good for Schafer’s men.
The U.S. may have several players missing, but those coming in will have much to play for as they look to secure a place in the squad for Brazil and even force their way into Klinsmann’s starting 11. It may take a while for the home side to break Jamaica down, but ultimately it should be a fairly comfortable win.
USA 2-0 Jamaica
Where to watch: The World Cup qualifier will kick-off at 6.30 p.m. at Sporting Park. Coverage will be provided by ESPN and UniMas, with a live stream available on Watch ESPN.