The USMNT will take on Jamaica twice over the next five days, with the first match in Kingston this evening and the return match in Columbus, Ohio, on Tuesday. These two matches will go a long way in deciding the semifinal round of qualifying for the USA. Here's my take on the three keys for these matches, from the back of the field to the front:
1. Back line needs to start coming together
Fabian Johnson seems to have solidified his spot as one of the outside backers on the national team with his ability to get forward and knack for doing the dirty work necessary in the back. The two veterans of the squad, Captain America Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, will likely keep their outside backer spots as they add stability and presence in front of superstar goalkeeper Tim Howard. That leaves the other centerback position up for grabs, but that should go to Geoff Cameron based on his stellar play against Mexico and his recent big move to Stoke City in the EPL. Cameron could also play in the defensive midfield where he is deployed with Stoke, which would open up a spot for Clarence Goodson (who played extremely well in the win over Italy earlier this year). I would only do this if another one of the defensive midfielders like Beckerman or Jones goes down with an injury. It would be good to see Jurgen Klinsmann having a more stable lineup in the back; a back line of Johnson-Bocanegra-Cameron-Cherundolo should be one to stay with for the foreseeable future.
2. Midfield depth will be tested
I have long claimed that the midfield is where the USMNT is strongest, with the likes of Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu, Kyle Beckerman, and Clint Dempsey all playing key roles in recent years in the middle of the pitch. Some of the young players we have raved about before like Brek Shea, who was a key in the win at Mexico, and oft-injured Stuart Holden are looked on as future stars. This depth will be put to the test over the next five days, as Donovan and Bradley will sit out these matches due to injuries, and Dempsey is still getting into form after his transfer to Tottenham in the EPL. Look for Jones, Edu, and Beckerman to play a lot of minutes in these matches. Dempsey will likely be deployed more as a substitute forward in these matches to save the wear and tear on his body while he gets back into top shape.
3. Who will score goals?
When it's all said and done, the US needs at least a win and a tie in these matches to take a commanding lead in their qualifying group, so scoreless draws just won't cut it. Jamaica has some speed and quality on the ball, but their defense is suspect. The US must take advantage of this, and to do so they need Jozy Altidore to display the scoring touch he has shown in recent months in Europe. Other than Dempsey, there has been no American field player in better form than Altidore over the past year. Herculez Gomez has put in some solid efforts recently and will likely start next to Altidore, with Terrence Boyd and Dempsey likely to play substitute roles.
Here is the lineup I hope to see in these matches:
GK - Howard
RB - Johnson
CB - Bocanegra and Cameron
LB - Cherundolo
MF - Beckerman, Edu, Jones, Shea
F - Altidore, Gomez
SUBS - Dempsey on for Gomez; Boyd on for Altidore; Goodson on for Cameron so he can relieve Jones in the midfield when he inevitably gets a yellow card for a hard challenge
Disagree on my lineup suggestions? Who would you start? Who do you want to see step up his game in these two matches?