Audley Boyd, Assistant Editor - Sports
KANSAS CITY, Kansas:
IT'S a do-or-die affair, but even victory for Jamaica against the United States in their CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying football match at Sporting Park here today may not be enough.
Besides chasing a historic away win against the Americans, who lead the six-nation qualifiers, only a draw among fellow contenders Panama and Mexico will save the Reggae Boyz from elimination now.
The Reggae Boyz sit bottom of the standings with four points, trailing the Central American duo tied on eight. Honduras follow on 11, while already-qualified United States (16) and Costa Rica (15) are way out front. All have played eight of 10 matches.
Kick-off time is 5:36 p.m.
A third automatic qualifying spot for Brazil 2014 exists, but that is out of reach as far as Jamaica is concerned.
The fourth-place CONCACAF team has an opportunity, by way of a home-and-away play-off against Oceania champions New Zealand. Therein lies Jamaica's only chance. However, other factors are key to keeping that dream alive.
With only two matches remaining for all teams, Jamaica can best earn six more points for a 10-point maximum. Mexico and Panama, on eight points each, also play tonight, and Jamaica's only hope is that they draw their match-up at The Azteca - where the Mexicans have been uncharacteristically vulnerable this campaign - then both lose their final matches on October 15.
On that day, Jamaica will host Honduras in Kingston, while Panama will host the US.
Jamaica's players are fully aware of their situation.
"I know it's a thin chance, but we have to do our job and hope for the best in the Mexico-Panama game," said midfielder/defender Demar Phillips.
"We have to do our job. We have to go out there and win our two games."
HAVE TO DO OUR PART
Striker Ryan Johnson summed up the equation similarly.
"The number-one thing we just have to worry about is doing our part in this situation and scenario and winning the games that we've got to win, and if everything else falls into line, we could see ourselves go through," he stated.
The Jamaicans have never beaten the Americans in the US, but recently appointed head coach, Winfried Schäfer, who will be involved in a head-to-head confrontation with his German counterpart, US coach Jurgen Klinsmann, believes the numbers game is stacking up nicely on his side.
"First match, draw; second match, draw; and third match, we have to win. All good things is three. I hope as a German and I think it's the same with you," he said, referring to the US game as his third in charge. The previous two against Panama and Costa Rica ended in draws.
Nontheless, he says the match will be difficult and avoided direct reference to any German vs German coaching match-up.
"It's not easy. We have a chance. We have to go out and show what we can do. United States are qualified, but each player gives 100 per cent and they have to give 110 per cent," Schäfer noted of his charges.
In recent match-ups this campaign, the Reggae Boyz registered a first-time win over the US men's senior team, 1-0 in semi-final round action. However, they lost their opening Hexagonal tie 2-1 to a stoppage-time goal in Kingston.
Schäfer is mulling changes from the 3-5-2 format he used to tie his first two games to the unsuccessful 4-4-2 that was used earlier in the campaign. The coach says such thoughts are based on the opposing team's style and the recommendation of players, on whom he has relied for much information about the Americans. He made specific reference to the Boyz who have intimate knowledge based on their association with Major League Soccer.
"Maybe we change our system," he said. "The United States play not the Caribbean style or South American style, more the European system, and I think we may have to change. Our players want to change the system.
"We need all information; information must come from the players too," explained Schäfer, whose team flew into this midwest US state on Monday night.
Three Reggae Boyz from the top US league will start - Johnson, midfielder JeVaughn Watson, and central defender Jermaine Taylor. The first two are among six changes to the starting team. Regulars Rodolph Austin (back from suspension) and Phillips (back from injury), along with seldom-used goalkeeper Duwayne Kerr and the explosive Jermaine Johnson are others returning to the first 11.
First-choice keeper Donovan Ricketts has a broken hand and is ruled out while Richard McCallum, who kept fairly well but was at fault for a goal in the Costa Rica match, has lost his spot.
"Kerr is a good goalkeeper. He plays in a good league in Norway. His club is not very high in the rankings, he must work hard for his club; he's the leader," Schäfer said. Joel (Jobi) McAnuff and Adrian Mariappa are also certain, but places for Shaun Cummings, Kemar Lawrence, Wesley Morgan and Daniel Gordon will depend on the fitness of Phillips and Austin.
Austin and Phillips have niggling injuries, but according to the coach, both have given assurances that they can play.