United States men's national team fans will remember 2012's loss to Jamaica forever. Even if they take nine points from the next three matches and beat Mexico this September, putting them in position to easily qualify for the World Cup, no one will forget how difficult the road to the final qualifying round was.
The second half of that September 7 match marked the worst 45 minutes of soccer played by the USMNT under Jürgen Klinsmann. Not only did they give up a second half winner, but they never looked like challenging Jamaica. Despite the superior pedigree of their players, the United States was utterly dominated in midfield and appeared to have no capacity to build a coherent attack.
There's no shame in any away loss in the Hex, but the United States will be expected to put in a much more competent performance against Jamaica on Friday, in their second trip to the island during this qualifying cycle. The U.S. have two home games coming up and will be in good shape going forward no matter what if they win those games, but a draw or win in Kingston would go a long way towards helping them punch their ticket to Brazil.
In Jamaica's case, nothing less than a win constitutes a good result. In a vacuum, a draw against the United States isn't the end of the world, but they're coming off a draw against Panama and a loss to Mexico at home. Any more dropped points at home will all but put them out of the running to secure a World Cup place. They won't be mathematically finished if they fail to win on Friday, but they will be put into a position where they need road wins.
Fabian Johnson was subbed off after tweaking his hamstring against Germany, but his exit was only a precautionary one. He's fine to play against Jamaica, and is expected to start on the left wing. Herculez Gomez is still battling a knee injury. He made the bench for the Germany friendly, but did not play. Jamaica welcome back winger Jobi McAnuff, who was allowed to miss out on the Mexico game for personal reasons. With Jamaica showing a lack of pace and directness in that match against Mexico, he could slot back into the starting lineup.
Projected lineups (left to right)
The U.S. left flank vs. Jamaica's right flank - Right wing is a bit of a mystery for Jamaica, especially with McAnuff returning to the team. The Reading man may stay on the bench, keeping Je-Vaughan Watson in the position, or he might come into the team, which would likely move Gareth McCleary to the right. In any event, the right winger will be in front of 18-year-old Alvas Powell, who had an up-and-down game against Mexico, and up against an unorthodox American pair. Fabian Johnson has played more left back than left midfield in recent years, while left back DaMarcus Beasley is a natural winger who has played almost no left back in his club career. This weird and unbalanced flank -- from the perspective of both teams -- might produce some surprise chances going both ways.
Clint Dempsey vs. Jamaica's double pivot - Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones have to win battles in midfield and distribute to the forwards, but it's not entirely on them to get Dempsey into the game. Dempsey is going to have to take it upon himself to move into good spots to receive the ball and occasionally come deep to find it himself. The United States' first goal against Germany came from him dropping deep, then dribbling 50 yards forward before distributing wide for Graham Zusi.
Ryan Johnson vs. his undeniable lack of top-level technique - Ryan Johnson is a respectable professional footballer and doesn't deserve to be piled on, but it is not unfair to say that he lacks the technique of elite World Cup-quality center forwards. His first touch often lets him down and his finishing isn't the best. He will have space to run into and his pace will lead to him having chances to shoot. What he actually does with those chances is anyone's guess.
Jamaica held their own against Mexico and probably feels like they deserved a draw. For most of the game, they matched El Tri, but they failed to counter quickly and fell asleep on one move, which Mexico capitalized on. The United States have the better team and will be motivated by September's loss, but Jamaica are desperate for a win and know what they need to improve from Tuesday's showing. These factors will cancel each other out in a 1-1 draw.