United States vs. Jamaica
2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying; CONCACAF regional tournament
October 11, 2013, 3:30 pm PT; Sporting Park, Kansas City, Kansas
Jurgen Klinsmann and the U.S. National Team have already punched their ticket to Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Klinsmann isn’t about to rest on his laurels though, as the construction of the team is still yet to be determined.
Klinsmann is looking to field the strongest teams possible in the final two matches of the Hexagonal Round when the U.S. hosts Jamaica on Friday at Kansas City’s Sporting Park, then heads to Panama City to meet Panama in what will be a crucial match in determining the final qualifying spot in the CONCACAF region.
“Once you achieve the goal of qualifying, you understand that the next higher level is already waiting for us. The benchmark in the World Cup is far higher, so whatever we do now already prepares us for that,” said Klinsmann, who coached Germany to a third-place finish in the 2006 World Cup. “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.”
However, many of the stars of the U.S. squad will be absent because of injuries. Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey and AS Roma midfielder Michael Bradley weren’t called in while they recovered from injuries and LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez was a late scratch to injury. Eddie Johnson also suffered a groin strain in training on Wednesday and was replaced on the roster by San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski. Clarence Goodson and Brad Davis were also late additions.
Johnson led all U.S. players with 15 international appearances in 2013 and was poised for his 60th lifetime cap before coming up injured. He had five goals on the year, including the game-winner against Mexico to clinch qualification for the World Cup last month.
That leaves Brad Evans as the lone Sounders FC representative for Friday’s match against Jamaica and he has history against the Reggae Boyz. In June, his stoppage time goal gave the U.S. a 2-1 victory for its first-ever qualifying victory in Kingston, marking the latest game-winner ever scored by the USMNT in qualifying.
Evans has started at right back in the last five matches that he was available, missing the last round of matches last month because of a calf strain.
Without Johnson, Dempsey, Gonzalez and Bradley, Klinsmann and his staff will have a chance to evaluate more players in pressure situations and explore the depth of the team.
“We will have a lot of discussions with the coaching staff on how to put the puzzle together. Overall, it gives other players a chance that have a point to prove,” Klinsmann said. “The players that stepped on the field against Mexico after what happened with the yellow cards in Costa Rica and Michael Bradley’s injury did a fantastic job. Kyle Beckerman played an amazing game against Mexico. They all deserve playing time, and the beauty of it is that if one player isn’t there, the next one has a chance.”
One position that has flourished for Klinsmann has been the goalkeeper spot, where incumbent Tim Howard has been consistent, but has been joined in the conversation for the starting role by Aston Villa’s Brad Guzan.
That type of competition is what Klinsmann would like to see at every position and matches like the next two, when new players have a chance to emerge, are at just the right stage to learn if players can sink or swim at the international level.
“This is exactly what we have been talking about for the last two years. You want to have your established player that is No. 1 in his position being challenged. You want to have him on his toes and know that the next guy is waiting,” Klinsmann said. “It keeps you hungry and motivated and focused. With the goalkeepers, we have one of the best situations in the world.”
The U.S. is 14-3-2 in 2013 and ranked 13th in the world by FIFA. It holds a one-point lead over Costa Rica for the top spot of the Hexagonal Round in pursuit of first place in the third consecutive qualifying cycle.
While the U.S. is already qualified, Klinsmann doesn’t anticipate having any problems motivating his team for the two matches this month.
“You only have to say one word: Brazil,” he said. “Then you automatically get fired up.”