In the wake of that disappointing 2-1 loss to Jamaica Friday night, a very good friend of mine repeated the phrase, "If they win Tuesday, all will be fine" several times.
This might apply to the qualification process, since a victory in the Jamaica rematch would give both teams seven points and a share of first place in the group. The USA would then qualify with sufficient points in its last two games regardless of other results.
But it doesn't apply to the team itself, as seldom in the past two decades has an American team looked so confused and error-prone in a CONCACAF qualifier.
(This reference deliberately excludes the run-up to the 1990 World Cup, which included an amazingly stagnant 0-0 tie with El Salvador at the St. Louis Soccer Park in the penultimate game of the final round. That one still takes the cake.)
"The Office," Jamaica's national stadium, isn't a pleasant place to do business even if a visitor is at full strength, which the Americans certainly weren't. The late scratch of right back Steve Cherundolo deprived the Americans of one of their most experienced players, and though Michael Parkhurst did a credible job in his place, a team already missing Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley and Carlos Bocanegra could have used a steady head on the field regardless of his position. A little wide play out of the back would have cleared up some of the congestion.
Simply put, the Americans played poorly after they shockingly took the lead on a Clint Dempsey goal after just 36 seconds. Clogging the middle with three holding mids isn't a terrible tactic, IF those three players can move with and without the ball while also shutting down attacks.
The triumvirate of Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman has played together enough to expect cohesion and communication on both sides of the ball, but only seldom did one of them get wide enough to stretch the Jamaicans, and neither outside back seemed confident enough to work the flank. They couldn't win balls with double-teams and committed fouls in relatively straightforward situations.
If Jurgen Klinsmann expected Jamaica to attack through the center of the field, he was correct, but implementing the means to thwart that strategy failed. The speedy Dane Richards stayed on the bench, and Omar Cummings and Darren Mattocks made only late cameo appearances, and still the Americans were scrambling most of the time.
Jermaine Taylor, one of four MLS players to start for Jamaica, captained the team while marshaling his midfield mates Jevaughn Watson, Rodolph Austin and Jason Morrison. With brazen runs and quick flicks they rendered their American counterparts nearly invisible, and they feasted on numerous errors, many of them unforced, and twice exploited free kicks to score.
The first free kick driven low by Austin glanced off the inside right ankle of Beckerman, one of several players in the defensive wall who jumped. Luton Sheldon curved the second one over the ball and off the inside of the post.
The run-up to the rematch is sure to trigger countless suggestions for changes in personnel, tactics and formation. Mindset will be just as important, In these desperate situations, the Americans usually respond well yet Jamaica's victory has exponentially raised its spirits. Game two will be a test of will for both teams.
Before, Jamaicans may have hoped they can advance to the Hexagonal, but now they believe. "Dare to be Massive" is a Crew marketing slogan, and in its stadium the Americans must do just that.