Juggled schedule offers USA unique opportunity

By Ridge Mahoney

Just about anyone would agree that playing three World Cup qualifiers in eight days is insane, but that's what Jamaica and Mexico will do starting tonight.

Mexico’s participation on the Confederations Cup that kicks off in 11 days required a juggling of the Hexagonal schedule. Mexico and Jamaica opened the final phase of qualifying Feb. 6 with a 0-0 tie in the Azteca, and would normally meet again on the sixth Hexagonal date, June 18. Yet by then Mexico will have already played its Confederations Cup opener against Italy in Rio de Janeiro during an intense run of games that will also include the Gold Cup starting July 8.

Instead, Jamaica and Mexico agreed to play in Kingston tonight, and both countries will also fulfill the Hexagonal dates on Friday and June 11 (next Tuesday). In addition to increasing the physical and mental burdens on both teams, the rescheduling also resulted in an opportunity for Coach Jurgen Klinsmann and his staff to scout the Jamaica-Mexico game in person.

U.S. Soccer arranged the team’s charter flight so it would arrive shortly after noon on Tuesday, which is one of the earliest arrivals for a road game in its recent history. Acclimation to the expected high temperatures in Kingston shouldn’t be a problem; temperatures during the team’s stay in Washington, D.C. were in the 90s.

One facet of the team’s early arrival will be a chance for the coaches to assess playing conditions during tonight’s game, which starts at the same time (9:30 p.m. ET; TV Telemundo) as the U.S. game on Friday. A bumpy surface and windy conditions have often plagued U.S. teams at this venue, and seeing how two rival teams, including the host, cope with them could as relevant as the insights the coaches may pick up watching future opponents in person.

The Americans will play back-to-back home games in this Hexagonal, but those are a week apart: against Panama Tuesday and Honduras a week later. Regardless of their result on Friday, their situation is not as dire as that faced by Jamaica, which is last in the Hexagonal with just two points and after the double-dip of home games against the two Concacaf heavyweights must travel to Tegucigalpa for its June 11 game. A poor run of results in the next three games will drop Jamaica deeper into the cellar.

With ties in each of its three Hexagonal matches and winless this year in six games overall, Mexico is perhaps not as desperate as Jamaica, but in a critical situation nonetheless. It plays at group leader Panama Friday, then hosts Costa Rica next Tuesday prior to departing for Brazil. Coach Chepo de la Torre and his players are chafing under criticisms of the team's play so far in the Hexagonal, which includes a blown 2-0 lead in Honduras as well as the goalless home games with Jamaica and the U.S.

A hard-fought, physical, draining game tonight could help the Americans Friday when they play a Jamaican team on just two days’ rest. It’s incredible to think that as the visitor, the U.S. arrived in Jamaica hours before the host team kicked off against the region’s powerhouse. With several days to acclimate and the advantage of facing a tired, beat-up foe, the Americans could be in a great position to snatch a win in Kingston, which it has never accomplished and would also avenge a 2-1 loss at same venue last year in the semifinal phase.

Whatever the result of tonight’s game, though, its intensity compared to that of the U.S. 4-3 waltz with Germany Sunday will be glaring. Even in a setting typical of a friendly, several Americans came up short at critical moments, and it’s not likely they will be able to build up a three-goal lead the bulk of which can be frittered away. The acres of space and eons of time conceded by Germany won’t be on offer in Kingston.

Jamaica played in its only World Cup 15 years ago, and by consensus this squad offers the nation’s best opportunity to return. How it responds to that pressure tonight, and how capably the Americans follow suit on Friday, will significantly alter the Hexagonal standings in which the top and bottom teams are separated by only three points.

The juggled schedule offers the U.S. a unique opportunity it can’t afford to squander. Realistically as well as mathematically, there are nine points up for grabs in the next three game.

3 comments about "Juggled schedule offers USA unique opportunity".
  1. Chris Sapien , June 4, 2013 at 7:06 p.m.

    I think the measure of tonight's game is, what measure of physicality will Jamaica employ against mexico at home?? Where I once thought the reggae boyz would almost be a lock for one of the top three spots,(after witnessing them knock us around back in Sept.), they instead turned into the Jeckyl & Hyde team of the group! Super glad our US boys are in Jamaica and preparing for Friday, instead of flying in last minute! Get the 9 points and let's send a message we're not Fing around anymore!!

  2. Gary Levitt, June 5, 2013 at 7:54 a.m.

    Mexico walked through last's night game and was a bit lucky to get their 3 points. Both sides failed miserably in the attacking third and Jamaica kept their shape for the first half. The USMNT should be able to expose Jamaica's back four on Friday night as well as dominate the midfield. Let's hope so.

  3. Rick Figueiredo, June 5, 2013 at 9:46 a.m.

    Very simply put, one does not acclimate in Jamaica. The heat drains you the minute you get there and the longer you stay there. As for the Jamaican players, they are fine regardless of the heat. They like it and think it an advantage. They feel at home. USA arriving there earlier has one advantage: they were able to watch the Mexico game live and feel the conditions. There are days when the heat drains your brain so much that it is hard to think. In 1997 March, Rene decided to play the USA at high noon. It was like being in the desert. The score was 0-0. Jamaica could have won that game. In 1998 they went to the world cup. I was with their coaching staff that year during those years. The USA team will have to train in very poor training facilities. The ground is hard with stones and debris and you need to hydrate constantly. Not too sure Jurgen made the right decision if he took the whole team there early. Jamaica-Kingston is no paradise. I have been there and coached games there for many years. Only the coach should have gone early. The team should have arrived one day before. Let's see how this plays out. Jamaica, anyway, looks disorganized on the field. They made Mexico last night look disorganized too for most of the game. That is what the temperature and atmosphere does to you. That is what a random team does to an organized one. They are violent and powerful and it is more like Rome and the Gladiators rather than a futebol match. Jamaica will be desperate against the USA. Lose and pretty much the world cup is done. Win and they are back in the race. They will come out fighting like only the Jamaican can.

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