World Cup place already booked, but USMNT still very focused heading into qualifier vs. Jamaica

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Photo by John Todd/ISIphotos.com

By FRANCO PANIZO

Truth be told, there might not be all that much at stake in Friday night’s World Cup qualifier at Sporting Park but do not tell the U.S. Men’s National Team that.

The Americans are heading into their penultimate World Cup qualifier without any real pressure after having secured their place in next summer’s tournament in Brazil last month. That still is not stopping head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his players from taking a very serious approach to the match, one that will not only dictate how the rest of the CONCACAF standings shapes out and who else could qualify but also make a case for individuals looking to break into the U.S. starting lineup or roster on a more permanent basis.

“It’s never been this competitive,” said Landon Donovan of the competition within the team. “I think before it’s always seemed like 15, 16, 17, 18 spots were sort of locked up and there was five or six left (for the World Cup) and now it seems like there’s a lot of open spots. There’s a lot of guys who aren’t here that could make a case that they should be here and a few guys that have been injured lately that are probably bubble guys too that will have a good chance, so it will be interesting as we get closer.

“It just keeps you going because you don’t have a chance to rest. In a lot of ways, you could say tomorrow is a friendly for us and fun but it’s not in that way because we need to keep impressing.”

With only five international fixtures remaining between now and May, every match is crucial for the players and for Klinsmann as well. The U.S. head coach is still looking to fine-tune things and identify which players are capable of contributing before heading off to Brazil in about seven months, so the tilt against Jamaica is vital in that regard.

Yes, Klinsmann has, for the most part, identified which players are in the running for the World Cup roster. But the decision on the 23 that will ultimately board the plane to Brazil will likely go down to the wire as will the race for a few of the remaining starting spots.

Take Geoff Cameron, for instance. A reserve for much of 2013 after starting a good portion of last year’s games, Cameron could once again make a serious claim at centerback due to the absence of injured starter Omar Gonzalez. Cameron is expected to play alongside Matt Besler in central defense for the first time on Friday night, a pairing that many have been wanting to see given their good technical abilities and composure on the ball.

“We always said that we think his best spot is centerback,” said Klinsmann. “He can play right back, he can play defensive midfielder that he showed in a tremendous way a couple times, some times it goes better, some times less. But he’s versatile, which is a plus, but I think still that his best, best position of Geoff Cameron is a centerback.

“We always tell him, ‘Go and kick somebody out at Stoke City in that role.’ But we’re happy that he is playing at least from the beginning on game-in, game-out at Stoke. But the next step for him is to push somebody out to the right back and get your centerback (spot).”

The last time Cameron started for the U.S. at centerback was in February’s forgettable 2-1 qualifying loss in Honduras. Cameron looked less than convincing that day, but he was not the only one.

The whole U.S. team was littered with questions and criticism after that ugly match in which the Americans allowed their initial lead to slip away. But fast forward to now and the Hexagonal-leading U.S. looks as healthy a team as it has been in recent memory, winning 13 of their last 14 games, the Gold Cup in July, punching an early ticket to Brazil and boasting more depth than ever before.

“Ups and downs are just normal in sports and in a path like that we always talk about the marathon in World Cup qualifying,” said Klinsmann. “Sometimes it goes down to the last game. Hopefully (you qualify) earlier. We made it earlier, which is great. There will never be a perfect two-year stretch in that process. There will come some defeats, you will make some mistakes, you will try out things that don’t work out, afterwards you know it better, so it’s just normal.

“But I think overall we became a lot more consistent in the entire program. I was not surprised that we qualified through the Mexico game, I personally hoped to get the job done already in Costa Rica (in September), and so we always will try to improve in every area. But the last two years has really been a consistent approach and hopefully build even more and stronger consistency going into the World Cup.”

To do that, the U.S. will need to knock off the Reggae Boyz, who are still somehow not eliminated from World Cup qualifying despite not picking up a win through their first eight matches in the Hexagonal. The Americans are heavy favorites for this one and with good reason, but they are sticking to their usual M.O. by not taking anything for granted.

“We expect a very difficult game with Jamaica, because they still can theoretically qualify, so they will do everything possible to make that happen and surprise us,” said Klinsmann. “Obviously a difficult team to play against physically, they have pace in the team, they have individual players that know how to play. It’s not going to be an easy job, and we will need to be very-well prepared for that one.”

A win for the Americans combined with Costa Rica falling to Honduras in San Pedro Sula would assure that the U.S. takes the Hexagonal for the second consecutive World Cup cycle. That is something the U.S. is well aware of, and it is adding to the serious demeanor that the U.S. has as it prepares for a Jamaica game that holds more significance than it does at first glance.

“We’d still like to finish top of the group. That’s important to us,” said Tim Howard, who will captain the U.S. on Friday. “We did that last cycle and thought it was good. It’s also an opportunity to impress. In a World Cup year, there just doesn’t seem to be much time at all with games, so this is an opportunity for us to be in front of Jurgen and the coaching staff again, to be in front of our home fans and give them a little bit of a send-off as well.”

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17 Responses to World Cup place already booked, but USMNT still very focused heading into qualifier vs. Jamaica

  1. The Imperative Voice says:

    Why 530?

    • Colin in MT says:

      ESPN has college football on Friday night and ESPN2 has Nascar. America doesn’t want to miss those to watch their national team

      • BK says:

        I don’t think ESPN or ther sports has anything to do with it. The other qualifying games in CONCACAF are at the same time. I think it is more of a CONCACAF thing than an ESPN thing.

      • Rowsdower says:

        Honduras Costa Rica match is at 4…..

  2. The Imperative Voice says:

    I think Cameron’s perceived versatility has been as much a curse as a blessing. Ever since Kinnear moved him from RM (where he actually started his pro career) to CB and CM, I’ve felt he was a talented athlete in need of some position-specific soccer IQ. He never gets the soccer savvy because they won’t leave him be in any one place. And particularly at the international level I think it shows when you play like an aggressive athlete who isn’t always in position and composed. Some teams it works out fine and he can physically dominate but others take advantage of him diving in and stepping out of formation.

    Stoke was supposed to help, and I think he benefits from the level of play there, but their continuation of the Kinnear jack of all trades approach has left his maturation at individual positions wanting. If Stoke won’t leave him be he might want to find a new home that wants him to just “play x.” I think his career progression would move along better if he did.

    • Travis in Miami says:

      Agree 100% I keep saying he is a jack of all trades but a master of none. I personally do not like him playing CB in games that mean something. He doesn’t see enough time at that very important position for club or country to be able to be consistent. That being said his versatility and ability to be a stopgap at so many positions probably gets his ticket stamped to Brazil. But he’s not a starter at any of his many positions in my mind.

      • RP says:

        I think he his chance of starting is at MB with Mike Bradley. The net gain he brought in the panama game is better than any net gain he’s brought anywhere else. I have to think given panama and costa rica he is currently the number 3 MF. Though a pairing with Jones if MB is out is debatable.. along with if Jones should be number 2 on the depth chart.

        I would love to see Cameron paired with Mix in these games..
        And a half of Jones with Beckerman.

        In a pinch he does move to RB in my opinion.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        I agree that his versatility helps him make the 23-man roster but in terms of the XI, if we had people really seizing the backline spots, his lack of consistency and soccer IQ should relegate him to bench utility guy. But everyone is inconsistent so it’s still as much his position as theirs to win.

        My specific CB complaint is precisely what I said before, he likes to aggressively step up and dive in and that leaves his man and others a spot in the formation to run through. If he would just hold his ground and stay aligned with the others he is an interesting back.

    • Todd T says:

      + 1 ….another example is Jonathan Spector.

      • bryan says:

        Spector is someone i would have liked to see over someone like Davis.

      • The Imperative Voice says:

        Foot speed. The reason Cameron is pool/roster and Spector these days is probably neither, is Cameron is an athlete while Spector struggles to win footraces with snails. He’s a wingback liability defending — although he is better and gets stuck in more than, say, Castillo — and I think he’s overrated like Kljestan or Adu as a middie.

        Davis has a similar speed problem but is strong enough of a technical wing he keeps getting chances, particularly under the new “administration.” But you notice he’s not a regular choice either. Though some of that has to do with a failure to translate his skills in practice in the international games. The corners and deadballs and crosses are just not as sharp. Some of that may be timing but if you’re a touch player who can’t work out the touch game with your teammates…..

  3. downintexas says:

    I’m glad we are going for the win in both theses games, but this would be an ideal time to bring in some new faces. Why? Cause there is a good chance by WC time we will have 2-3 players hurt or out of form. This would be great time to integrate some of those guys. When the games mean something.

  4. bryan says:

    would love to see a smack down tonight.

  5. Quit whining about soccer in the US says:

    I like Cameron with MB in the mid. Bummer…JK doesn’t I guess.

    • Joamiq says:

      Same. Unfortunately it’s just not going to happen. I won’t care too much though if Jones starts playing consistently like he did against Mexico.

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