The United States and Jamaica are tied on four points in Group 1 of CONCACAF qualifying.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
In just over one year as manager, Jurgen Klinsmann has guided the U.S. men's national soccer team to historic wins in Italy and Mexico. A win on Friday in Jamaica would trump both of them.
Crazy? Not at all. The combined value of the victories over Italy and Mexico can be disputed. They were just friendlies, right? No matter how impressive, even jaw-dropping, in the moment, what comes of them is what is important.
"At the end of the day," U.S. forward Landon Donovan said after the win over Mexico, "we don't win any trophies, and we don't get any points for it."
Friday night in Kingston, Jamaica, where the United States has yet to win in four all-time World Cup qualifying matches, there is a lot more on the line. Failure at this stage would make two friendly wins completely irrelevant.
"If we do our homework and are prepared to take every piece of what we do seriously, we can beat big nations away from home," Klinsmann said. "But it doesn't give you a guarantee for tomorrow.
"Tomorrow is a whole new animal and we have to go into Jamaica, respect them and be prepared to give everything we have in order to get a good result."
The United States and Jamaica are tied on four points in Group 1 of CONCACAF qualifying and, as the top two teams, on pace to advance to the final stage. But qualifying trips to Jamaica have not been vacations for the Americans.
The United States has four draws, and just one goal scored, in its previous four qualifiers in Jamaica. Until the closing stages of its last qualifying visit in 2004, the Americans were on the brink of a loss.
Former striker Brian Ching, off an assist from Donovan, scored in the final minute of normal time to rescue a 1-1 draw. Before that, the United States was scoreless in 359 minutes in qualifying action in Jamaica.
Just over two years after arguably the biggest win in United States history - a 2-0 win over Mexico in the 2002 World Cup knockout stage - a match against Jamaica on the road was hardly a cake walk.
Such is the case now, in the same calendar year as wins in Italy and Mexico. Jamaica will be tough at Independence Park, nicknamed the "The Office." The Reggae Boyz are ranked 60th by FIFA. The United States is only 33rd.
Jamaica has already defeated Guatemala in group play, but managed just a 0-0 draw at Antigua and Barbuda, which was just another snapshot of how hard it is to win on the road, especially in qualifying.
Just two months before its historic 1-0 win at the Azteca in Mexico, a visit to Guatemala resulted in a 1-1 tie for the United States. To a point, that is the goal in qualifying: get a draw on the road and win at home.
With the match against Jamaica being the first of a home-and-away series for the countries, the second battle is in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday, there is even more at stake than usual on the road this time.
"It's tricky, but it's tricky for both sides," Klinsmann admitted. "If we win there, which we'll try to do, then you fly back and you're confident enough at home to try to repeat it."
A loss could have the reverse effect. And with Guatemala playing Antigua and Barbuda twice over the same stretch, the Americans may wind up first, second or third in the group ahead of the final two matches of the semifinal stage.
The Americans will be without Donovan and midfielder Michael Bradley, a pair of sure-fire starters, for the two-match series against Jamaica. For a squad that is still not "consistent," Klinsmann said, that could pose a problem.
The result in Mexico came in the absence of a few starters as well, as Clint Dempsey and Bradley were among those not with the team. Argue about how huge the win was, even for a friendly, but a first-ever win in Mexico will lose a lot of luster, if not all of it, if the United States loses in Jamaica.
"We want to continue on the path of pushing ourselves to the limits, getting good results," Klinsmann said, "and building a core of players that is always ready to step up when it matters."
His last three words sum it up well: when it matters.