Jamaica, USA in crucial clashes

Today, the USA men’s national team visit ‘The Office’ located in Kingston, Jamaica for a crucial CONCACAF World Cup qualifying clash as the region kicks off its second pair of matches in this Fourth Round to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In this ‘Office’ is officially known as The Jamaica National Stadium, the national team of Jamaica is virtually unbeatable.

Jamaica and the U.S. are tied in first place with four points each in Group A, with Guatemala and Antigua and Barbuda each with a point at the bottom. Two players who could very well decide the outcome of this two-game series (the return match is Sept. 11 in Columbus Ohio) are Reggae Boyz forward Ryan Johnson and USA goal keeper Tim Howard.

Johnson, who leads a Jamaica team that has eight MLS (Major League Soccer) players on its 20-man squad, knows importance of winning the first game in Jamaica. “We have to go into the USA matches aiming to win,” Johnson said on the FIFA web site. “I’m confident in the quality of this current Jamaican team, and we have a lot of ways to break down this USA team with speed, technique, lots of ability and lots of experience too.”

Johnson believes that the MLS players are a big plus for Jamaica. “MLS is a tough league,” said Johnson. “The level of competition is high and there’s a lot of travel involved. The MLS players in the Jamaican team know each other well and that helps with cohesion.” Johnson continued “We (The Jamaicans who play in MLS) also know the US players’ strengths and weaknesses, because we play them every week.”

The 27-year-old forward was born in Jamaica and moved to the Boston area with his family at the age of two. He played at University of Oregon before making his mark with the San Jose Earthquakes of MLS, then moving to MLS’ Toronto FC, where he recorded six goals so far this season. Johnson has played 19 times for the Reggae Boyz and his eight international goals include the winner in a 2-1 victory against Guatemala in the first qualifying game of this Round.

Jamaican coach Theodore Whitmore – who led Jamaica to 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup Championship and later suffered a quarterfinal loss to the USA in the 2011 Gold Cup – and Johnson share a mutual affection. Johnson refers to Whitmore as one of his idols from the 1998 World Cup finals Reggae Boyz team, while Whitmore calls Johnson his hardest working forward. “He’s got us unified,” Johnson said about his coach. “He’s got all our respect, so when he speaks, we listen.”

Meanwhile, Tim Howard and his U. S. team are coming off an historic 1-0 win against Mexico for the first time at the Azteca Stadium on Aug. 15. Howard stated on the U.S. Soccer and FIFA web sites that it was “one of the biggest moments of my career.” It’s a win that Howard hopes will help his U.S. team in Jamaica, where the U.S. has won only once. Jamaica has never beaten the U. S. and managed only draws versus the Americans at The Office.

Howard, who plays for Everton in the English Premiership, acknowledges the tough task ahead for the U.S. “Jamaica is a tough team and it’s tough to play them at ‘The Office’ in Kingston. We’re hoping we can keep up the momentum from the Azteca win and get one there, where we rarely win,” said the 33-year-old goal keeper with 23 international shutouts. “They’re a lot like us. In fact, Jamaica, Canada and the USA are very similar and match up very tightly. They have strong, athletic players and a few guys who know how to move the ball around. When you play a team that cancels you out like that, you need to get the tactics right. We need to find a rhythm and dominate the areas we can dominate on the field.”

U. S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said this about the game “… We’ve all watched different Jamaica games and they’re a very good team. Quite a lot of those guys are playing overseas and a lot play in MLS so we’re familiar with them. They have tremendous physical qualities, great speed and are dangerous in transition. We have a lot of respect for them but if we play to our strengths we have a chance to beat them in Jamaica…”

In other match-ups today in Group A, Guatemala hosts Antigua/Barbuda; in Group B, Costa Rica hosts group leader Mexico, and El Salvador entertains Guyana; in Group C, Cuba hosts group Honduras and Canada hosts group leader Panama.

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