USMNT set to face a familiar, yet challenging Jamaica in World Cup qualifying

USMNT set to face a familiar, yet challenging Jamaica in World Cup qualifying

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USMNT set to face a familiar, yet challenging Jamaica in World Cup qualifying

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The U.S. men’s national team resumes its Concacaf World Cup Qualifying schedule on Thursday night against Jamaica and will be seeking a much smoother start to this month’s window after a shaky start in September.

Gregg Berhalter’s squad sits on five points from three matches in the current octagonal standings, beginning another three-match window in Austin, Texas on Thursday. Standing in the way will be Jamaica, a national team seeking its first win of the new qualifying cycle after failing to earn a victory during the September window.

Thursday’s match will be the third meeting between the Concacaf rivals in 2021, and while the Americans may have won both previous meetings this year, they are fully aware the pressure and importance of World Cup qualifying will make the latest match-up the toughest of the bunch.

“This is a difficult team, it’s going to be anything but an easy game tomorrow night,” Berhalter said. “They pushed Mexico to the absolute limit on the road at high altitude and unfortunately watched Mexico get a winning goal in the final minutes. It’s a difficult team to break down and our focus as a team is on this first game and that only.”

Photo by John Dorton

“We know this is a dangerous group of players and we know they like to get after teams with their speed,” USMNT left back Antonee Robinson said Tuesday. “Our goal will be to keep them on the back foot and keep their skill players off the ball. If we can keep them under pressure then we should be able to cause a lot of problems for them.”

Berhalter is without several key players in his squad including attacking talents Christian Pulisic and Gio Reyna, along with veteran centerbacks John Brooks and Tim Ream. Weston McKennie is back with the team following his exclusion in the final two matches of the September window and will start in midfield while Yunus Musah is cleared to feature after returning a negative COVID-19 test on Wednesday.

After coming out of the gates with two draws from its opening two matches, the USMNT faced ample pressure going into a Matchday 3 trip to Honduras, but eventually walked away with a 4-1 victory. Confidence is sky-high in the USMNT squad going into the opening match of October’s window and is something the team will look to keep on its side going into another important qualifier.

“The communication between coaches and players is very important, Gregg has emphasized the importance of staying connected and being in constant conversation when we need each other,” USMNT midfielder Tyler Adams said. “Coming into last camp maybe we were just a little bit naive and we look at it now as a learning process. The group is focused and we know what our ambitions are.”

Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

The USMNT attack will look slightly different with both Pulisic and Reyna unavailable, and in-form striker Jordan Pefok not selected for this month’s matches. MLS veterans Paul Arriola and Gyasi Zardes return to international duty after strong recent performances with D.C. United and Columbus Crew respectively, and will bring something different to the squad.

Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, and Weah are younger options for Berhalter to consider in his starting lineup, as the Americans try to use their verticality to get behind Jamaica’s backline.

“I think we can accomplish both [breaking lines and playing vertically] with having a well-balanced attack,” Berhalter said. “When I look at our past games, we played our best when we were fast and most teams do right? It’s not like I am inventing something here, anytime you can turn teams around it causes problems, and it’s about the timing and precision to do that. The key to the game is being balanced for sure.”

“In terms of tactically, Gregg wants to be more direct,” Robinson said. “It’s about creating chances and being on the front foot and putting the other teams on the back foot. We need to convert our chances to win games. This is our chance to show that we can achieve the goals we have set out in front of us.”

The Americans are missing some key pieces heading into Thursday, but so is Jamaica, which will be without its two best attacking threats in Leon Bailey and Michail Antonio.

Both Jamaica and the USMNT will be eager to walk away with three points knowing there are two additional matches on each team’s schedule left over the next week. The USMNT has the early psychological advantage after defeating Jamaica 1-0 in last summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup quarterfinal, but the Reggae Boyz will be itching to end their winless start to qualifying.
“I don’t think it’s panic mode for them or anyone in the table just yet, but we also know they will be playing with urgency,” Berhalter said. “We know it’s a good and physical team and they will pose problems for us. We’re just going to have to be prepared for them.”

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