The celebrating of Friday’s unforgettable World Cup qualifying win against Mexico has been completed and put in the memory banks of a U.S. men’s national team that has made the trip to the Caribbean for a match that will ultimately determine of the November window is a success for Gregg Berhalter’s team.
Standing in the way is a Jamaica team that has lost ground in the race for the automatic World Cup qualifying places in Concacaf, with Friday’s last-minute draw against El Salvador denying the Reggae Boyz a chance to close the gap on the top half of the Octagonal standings.
These teams have met three times in 2021, with the Americans prevailing in all three instances. The most recent meeting was just a month ago, with the USMNT rolling to a 2-0 victory.
It will be a different Jamaican team taking the field in Kingston on Tuesday though, with Michail Antonio and Leon Bailey expected to start. Neither English Premier League standout has faced the Americans in 2021, and both will be key to trying to test a USMNT defense that did well to neutralize Mexico’s vaunted attack.
Here is a look at the five key matchups to watch when the USMNT and Jamaica square off on Tuesday:
Michail Antonio vs. Chris Richards
The West Ham star didn’t start against El Salvador, but still made an impact with a goal off the bench, showing off his quality. This would be a very difficult assignment for Richards, who has just one previous World Cup qualifier under his belt.
That lack of experience could lead Berhalter to start Mark McKenzie instead. McKenzie hasn’t been playing much for his club team in the past month, but he has started in some big matches before, such as the road win in Honduras in September, and the Concacaf Nations League final in June.
Tim Weah vs. Kemar Lawrence
Paul Arriola gave Lawrence all sorts of problems in October, which was a bit of a surprise given Lawrence’s reputation as a strong defender. Weah could have similar success on Tuesday if he can come anywhere close to duplicating the quality he showed against Friday, when he earned SBI Man of the Match honors.
If Weah is fatigued from Friday, Berhalter could give Arriola the nod, and we should recall that it was Arriola who nearly forced Lawrence into a red-card tackle just two minutes into the October qualifier in Austin, Texas.
Shamar Nicholson vs. Walker Zimmerman
Jamaica has several options to go with at the forward position, and while it isn’t a sure bet Theodore Whitmore starts Antonio and Nicholson together, if he does, then Zimmerman would be the likely defender assigned to deal with Nicholson’s 6-foot-4 frame.
If Whitmore chooses to pair Antonio with a quicker striker, then Zimmerman could be matched up with Antonio, leaving someone like Leon Bailey or Kemar Roofe to go against either Chris Richards are Mark McKenzie.
Ricardo Pepi vs. Damion Lowe
Pepi had his way with Jamaica the last time these teams met, scoring both goals in the 2-0 victory. If The Reggae Boyz are going to keep Pepi from producing a repeat of that performance then it will be up to Lowe to try and contain him.
The issue for Jamaica is that while Lowe is a solid defender — having earned Gold Cup Best XI honors this past summer — his partner in central defense, 35-year-old Adrian Mariappa, is a defensive liability and Pepi can punish Jamaica again if Lowe gets drawn away on other threats, leaving Mariappa isolated with Pepi.
Leon Bailey vs. Antonee Robinson
The versatile and dangerous Bailey can line up in a variety of spots in the Jamaica attack, and started at forward against El Salvador, but we can see him moving to the right wing role he has played several times for the Reggae Boyz, which would pit him against Robinson, who is in excellent form.
This potential battle of English-based speedster will be fun to watch, and after containing Jesus Corona on Friday, Robinson will be strolling confidently into his next challenge.
What do you think of these matchups? Which one do you see being the most important? Which match didn’t make the list that you think could wind up having a big part to play on Tuesday?
Share your thoughts below.