The United States are just two wins away from booking their trip to the 2017 Confederations Cup. After a dominating win in the Gold Cup quarterfinals against Cuba, the U.S. now face their toughest challenge so far. Jamaica awaits in the semifinals in Atlanta. All of the preparations and struggles are behind the team and we're now down to the moment of truth.
There will be no room for mistake when the USMNT meet the Reggae Boys on Wednesday (6 p.m ET, FS1, UniMas). They boast several familiar names from Major League Soccer and Europe. Players like Darren Mattocks, Giles Barnes, and Adrian Mariappa just to name a few are known commodities around the American soccer community.
For Jurgen Klinsmann and his team it's time to forget about everything that's happened previously, be it positive or negative. The blow out win against Cuba and the struggles to create scoring chances against Haiti, they mean nothing. It's about how you perform from here on out.
Jamaica are fast and physical. They usually give the USMNT a tough and competitive match no matter the situation. Wednesday night will be no different as both teams fight for a place in the Gold Cup final. Here are some key things you should be looking for:
Be sharp, be aware
To avoid getting behind early, the U.S. has to keep possession with sharp and clean passes. Their first touches have to improve from what we've seen so far in this tournament. If we continue to see sloppy turnovers in the midfield and/or defensive third Jamaica will punish those mistakes with their pace and skill. So far the sloppy mistakes have been glossed over thanks to poor execution by the lesser opponents. Jamaica have the players to be able to capitalize on such errors and they will if the Americans continue to make them.
Keeping Barnes in check
Without a doubt the Jamaican's most dangerous attacking player is Giles Barnes of the Houston Dynamo. The 26-year-old has 26 goals in the last two and a half seasons in MLS and scored the game-winning goal to put Jamaica into the semifinals. The U.S. back line will have to be attentive at all times as Barnes and Jamaica will be looking to use their pace to break in behind.
The entire U.S. defense will need to shut down the danger area in front of the penalty area. If Jamaica are allowed to occupy that space it will be an impossible task keeping tabs on the pacey runs in behind. It's up to Michael Bradley and most likely Kyle Beckerman to control the midfield play and to push the Jamaican attack out wide to the flanks.
Iceman and Deuce gaining an understanding
Yes it was Cuba, but the Aron Johannsson and Clint Dempsey strike partnership looked as good as any pairing for the USMNT has in a long time. Both players combined around the box and knew when to drop back and when to stay in for support. Johannsson's dangerous runs were ripping apart the Cuban defense at will and was the precursor to his goal. Dempsey's role as the supporter and distributor was played to perfection as well. The question is, can they replicate this type of performance against much tougher competition? Jamaica will be a great measuring stick to see exactly how fair the partnership has developed.
Big back line questions remain
Timothy Chandler or DaMarcus Beasley? Reading between the lines, it sounded like Beasley was set to play against Cuba before sustaining an injury in training. Chandler got the start instead and did okay in his 45 minutes, but was removed for also picking up a knock. Assuming both are fit to play on Wednesday it will be a huge decision for Klinsmann to make. Your guess is as good as ours as to who he will pick. If our vote counts, we'd like to see Beasley's experience and leadership get the nod.
Then you have the the center back situation. John Brooks is returning from suspension, while Omar Gonzalez is coming off of his first international goal. Ventura Alvarado is still getting significant minutes despite some very shaky defensive displays. Three players for two spots. Brooks and Alvarado have been the preferred pairing in big games. Will that change now that the opposition is more challenging? Again, in an important game like this one, the safe play is to opt for experience.
Here's the lineup we'd like to see against Jamaica: