Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer
Reggae Boyz aim to cool fired-up US
The good news is Jamaica finally beat the United States after 18 failed tries. The bad news is the Reggae Boyz must try to repeat last Friday's historic victory today, but in a far more hostile environment here.
Fresh off the 2-1 home win in the semi-final round CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier (WCQ), confident Jamaica confront an under-pressure US senior men's national football team at 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Jamaica time).
A win will push the Boyz closer to a spot in the final round, from which the top three countries get an automatic place at World Cup 2014 in Brazil.
Today's rematch will be played at Columbus Crew Stadium where Americans are sure to be charged with intense emotions as they mark both extreme tragedy and triumph of spirit in their country's history. On September 11, 2001, terrorists attacked multiple locations in the US, killing almost 3,000.
However, the Boyz are braced for the American onslaught and stand ready to repel it. The simple goal is to win.
"We know it's gonna be a tough game," explained Jamaica's head coach Theodore Whitmore yesterday. "We are prepared for any and every situation. Regardless of what, we have our objectives ... and that is the bottom line."
The Americans, however, will aim to feed off the heightened energy from their anticipated huge majority in a sold-out 24,000 capacity crowd.
"We want to show them we can take care of things," said US coach Jurgen Klinsmann yesterday.
Clint Dempsey, who scored the only US goal in Kingston after just 36 seconds, believes his team will use the occasion as a rallying point.
"It's special," the American star said of 9/11, "because it shows our country's character."
The US are anxious to avenge Friday's loss and avoid another setback that would plunge them in danger of not advancing to the final round as one of two top teams in Group A. Their objective is to collect maximum three points against Jamaica.
"We want to desperately, desperately do that (today)," said Klinsmann.
Jamaica lead the group with seven points from three games. The US and Guatemala have four, while Antigua and Barbuda (A&B) have managed a single point. A&B play Guatemala again today.
The Boyz are still bubbling with belief after snapping their winless jinx against the US. However, Jamaica must strike a delicate balance - avoid overconfidence without losing intensity. Whitmore views the back-to-back clashes as two halves of a single match.
"Complacency plays a key role," explained Whitmore. "We want to win the next 45 minutes come (this) evening, and I think that's where our head is at the moment."
Despite a solid performance in the first-leg win, Jamaica showed some worrying signs. Adrian Mariappa's mistake gifted the US a shock lead. Nyron Nosworthy, his partner in central defence, was far from convincing early. Jamaica, overall, will also need to improve ball possession and show more imagination in attack.
It was unclear up to press time if Whitmore will change his line-up after Friday's success. Ahead of an evening training session at the stadium yesterday, the coach said he was awaiting an assessment of the players from the team's medical staff.
The Crew Stadium field should offer a better surface for passing than 'The Office', but Jamaica's Jason Morrison, along with fellow midfielders Rodolph Austin and Je-Vaughn Watson, can expect amped- up doses of pressure from the US when they get the ball.
Expect Dempsey to report sharper today. But the US could make several changes. Yesterday, Klinsmann said wingback Steve Cherundolo, who missed the game in Kingston with a calf strain, is fit. He is solid in defence and offers an attacking option on the flank. Regular captain and veteran defender Carlos Bocanegra, dropped in Kingston over concerns about his lack of pace against Jamaica's speedy attackers, is expected to return. Bocanegra is also a legitimate scoring threat on US set pieces. His leadership is valued highly.
The US conceded several free kicks within striking range of goal. Austin and forward Luton Shelton made them pay dearly, scoring directly from the set pieces. The Americans are still lamenting their carelessness.
"We gave away cheap, free kicks and lost the game," said Klinsmann.
The US also struggled to keep ball possession and lacked decisiveness in midfield, where they were dominated by Jamaica, especially Austin and Watson.
Expect the US to spice up their attack. Brek Shea, who was a second-half substitute in the first game, and skilful midfielder Josť Torres, who saw no action in Kingston, could play bigger roles as the US seek more creativity and hunt for goals.
Jamaica and the US drew 1-1 the last time the two teams played at Crew Stadium in a 2004 WCQ. The result ended Jamaica's 2006 World Cup hopes.
That night was cold and wet. Rain is unlikely today, but the temperature could drop to low 50F by kick-off.
That shouldn't bother the Boyz. How well they deal with a hot, hostile crowd and ramped-up US team are bigger concerns. The deciding factor could be the early exchanges.
"I think the first 20 minutes are gonna be huge," said broadcaster Taylor Twellman, a former US international. "The Americans are gonna be fired up."
The Boyz must be ready to fire back.