Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
COLUMBUS, Ohio — For a team that just played one of its worst matches in recent memory, the U.S. men's national team is heading into tonight's crucial World Cup qualifier against Jamaica sounding extremely confident.
Tonight's match (8pm ET, ESPN2/Galavision) isn't quite a must-win, but the U.S. needs a victory from tonight's qualifier to avoid falling into a serious dangerous zone in CONCACAF Group A. A victory would push the Americans back into a tie with Jamaica with seven points, but a loss, coupled with a Guatemala win vs. Antigua and Barbuda, would see the Americans drop three points out of the qualifying zone with two matches remaining.
U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann remains cool and composed despite his team having just four points after its first three games in qualifying, and his players are also boasting that same type of mentality ahead of a game that could put them back in pole position of the group.
"As a team, we want to win every game so we would want to even if we won last game," said Brek Shea. "I'm not looking at it as a game we have to win. We don't want to look past the game but we're going to go out there just like any other game and we're going to try to win."
The U.S. players also shouldered lots of the blame for last Friday's defeat, even with a large section of the media and fans pointing the blame at Klinsmann and his tactics in what was a poor showing in Jamaica.
"I don't think it's fair to break it down into certain eras where coaches have come and gone and players remain the same," said Steve Cherundolo, who missed the away game due to a calf strain. "We're the ones on the field. Not unless Jurgen is going to sub himself in tomorrow, which I don't think is possible. Bob Bradley didn't score too many goals, Bruce Arena didn't score very many goals for us, so it's the guys on the field getting the job done."
For the Americans to do that, they will need to vastly improve in a number of areas. Two of those areas that Klinsmann singled out during his pre-game press conference on Monday afternoon were possession and width.
The U.S. struggled to keep the ball for long stretches and failed to create many quality looks on goal in Kingstom, but when they were able to string passes together and get the ball wide, they seemed to be at their most dangerous. That is what the team has been working on in training in Columbus for the past couple days and something it hopes translates onto the field.
"The effort is always there. That's something you always get with this team but unfortunately the effort came maybe in the wrong moments," said Cherundolo. "We saw some good things out of the game; when we possessed the ball, when we moved the ball around, we instantly created chances. That's something we're taking away from that game and applying hopefully."
Changes will likely be made to the midfield by Klinsmann if the Americans are to get three points, but the German-born head coach has not hinted one way or the other as to who he might insert in order to help make that happen. Still, at least a couple of changes are already known, as Klinsmann has indicated that Cherundolo and captain Carlos Bocanegra will be back in the starting lineup for this pivotal match, which is being played on the 11th anniversary of 9/11.
"We haven't really talked about it but everyone knows," said Shea on the significance of playing the first U.S. game on this date since before the tragedy in 2001. "Kind of as a team we haven't talked about it, but small talk about what it means to this country and the day, so it means that much more for the game."
Shea and the rest of the U.S. squad got a visit on Monday night by three members of the New York City Fire Department, who addressed the team about the significance of the date given that some of them were too young or not in the country to grasp the severity of everything that transpired.
Adding to that will be the soldout crowd at Columbus Crew Stadium on Tuesday night. A turnout of 24,000 fans is expected and most will be wearing red, white and blue and rooting for the Americans to pick up the three crucial points that will put the team back atop the group and ease the pressure they are receiving.
"It's certainly one of the few venues where we truly have a homefield advantage and that's something we relish because we don't get it very often," said Cherundolo. "Hopefully we feed on that atmopshere in the stadium and really from minute one to 90, put Jamaica under so much pressure that there can only be one winner."